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THEM Anime Q&A #3! Part 1

February 11, 2014

Time to begin the THEM Anime Q&A #3! You ask us questions, we give you answers.

Unfortunately, due to communication errors on my part, only five of the nine people who signed up currently have the questions answered. Hopefully we'll have the other four ready within a week or two! I'll let you guys know!

So here's the breakdown on the five reviewers who joined this round, and their colors for the answers.

TJ - Tim Jones
CR - Carlos Ross
SH - Stig Høgset
AF - Aiden Foote
NB - Nick Browne

Hi, I heard from the site that you would have us ask you guys some questions so I thought I'd ask you some stuff if it's ok with you.

1.) What were the best and worst anime's you've reviewed in 2013 last year and why?
2.) What's your favorite review and why? (Meaning which did you have the most fun reviewing and talking about?)
3.) What show (anime or not) reminds you or makes you think about real life?
4.) Do you have a favorite cartoon that isn't anime? Least favorite?
5.) What shows did you grow up with? Did they inspire you to do reviews and talk about them? If not, then what?
6.) what was the first anime you ever saw?
7.) What's the first thing you think of when you think of a good or bad anime to compare others to?
8.) Have you ever read any anime related doujinshi (fan made manga) or fan fiction? If so, then what's the best one you've read? I won't say worst cause that would probably be mean to the author who worked hard on it, if ya catch my drift but you could still answer that if you want to...

Thank you for taking time for reading this, sorry if this is too long for you and I can get if you can't answer all this. Keep on trucking/reviewing~

-Celeste <3 :3

1.) TJ: My favorite anime I reviewed last year was far and beyond Flowers of Evil. I loved how it took the typical, well-tread school kid anime genre and flipped it on its head. It wasn't afraid to get dark, depressing, and creepy. I remember going through periods of anguish myself when I was male lead Kasuga's age myself. The early teenage years are rough.

As for least favorite..well, I didn't review too many anime in 2013 (nine if all of you have been counting, heh), but of all of them I'd say Kinmoza!! was, well maybe not the worst anime I saw last year, was definitely the worst I reviewed. It had the potential for a great anime - two girls from vastly different cultures interacting with each other - and just threw it away after the first episode for slapstick and random sprinklings of Engrish. Disappointing.

CR: This was tough, because I was on reviewing hiatus for much of the year due to job-hunting and practicing / training for my December Jeopardy! appearance. A lot of the best shows went to other reviewers, including my favorites Encouragement of Climb and Bodacious Space Pirates. (Then there's Non Non Biyori which would be in this list if this review weren't still being worked on.)

Best of show for 2013 for me were Sword Art Online, and surprisingly, Kokoro Connect. I'm a sucker for romance, I guess!

Worst is probably the 80s OVA Roots Search, which was just plain AWFUL, with the "promotional" one-shot See You After Class being close behind. Another was also really bad, though Aiden actually gets primary credit for that review.

SH: I don't think I've ever reviewed any real standouts in 2013, but looking back at it, I watched and reviewed a lot of shows I honestly enjoyed a lot. I enjoyed Girls und Panzer in all its shameless tank nerdery, I enjoyed Gingitsune for being a more lighthearted version of Natsume's Book of Friends. And I enjoyed Encouragement of Climb for taking one of my favorite pastimes and actually making an anime out of it. (Well, sorta.) Even Tamayura got a sequel out this year.

However, the standout anime of the year award from me goes to Maoyu, for taking some of that Spice and Wolf magic and bringing it into a really well-made show that unfortunately never got the chance to shine like it should have been allowed to.

As for the worst, I gave one star to two shows: Aoi Sekai no Chuushin De and Zettai Boei Leviathan. If forced to choose at gunpoint, Aoi Sekai probably takes home the prize for the most utterly wretched nonsense watched and reviewed in 2013. Maybe it's because unlike Leviathan's mindless "cute girls do... things" sludge, Aoi Sekai had a potentially interesting angle that it proceeded to take a large dump all over.

AF: Most of the anime I've reviewed this year have been pretty poor if I am to be blunt about it. NouCome was probably the worst though there wasn't a show that got my blood boiling more than OreShura. It was better on a technical level than NouCome but it was so damn stupid and the premise was so incredibly vile that I fumed for days. I don't react like that very often.

Kyousougiga was the best show I was lucky enough to review. It was the kind of show that I love to talk about over several long blog posts if I had the time to write them. One review was not enough to do justice for how interesting it was.

NB: I reviewed only a handful of series, due partially to my being busy in real life and partially to my habit of not keeping up with the new seasons, which I'm now trying to break. By far the worst thing I watched and reviewed, however, was Photo Kano, a show based on a dating sim made by the same company that made Amagami SS. While one could just dismiss it as being generic junk, the problem lies in the fact that it goes beyond the normal "girls fall for loser for no believable reason" and steps into the realm of "guy harasses girls and takes advantage of them, and they fall for him." Normalizing sexual harassment, especially in a show geared towards men who aren't dating anyone and (likely) don't have the best idea of how to talk to women, is more than just questionable. It's dangerous.

The best thing I'm supposed to have reviewed was Attack on Titan, which, while not the perfect show, kept me hooked throughout and has me hoping for the announcement of more seasons, though I suppose I could just start reading the manga (I should have that review written soon, hopefully).

Of the shows I did review, it was Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet, of all things, that I enjoyed most. It has plenty of problems, but it's one of the few science fiction series of late that I've seen actually pay some attention to its setting rather than use it as an excuse for "cute girls doing cute things" or the like (some of which does happen, admittedly). It also tells a story of culture shock with more seriousness than usual: the language barrier is real, the main character's habits don't vanish instantly, and he has to fight against a lot of cultural conditioning as soon as he arrives.

In some ways, it actually makes me think of Now and Then, Here and There in reverse: instead of Shu changing the views of people who admit that they in fact are the "crazy ones", as in people whose personalities have been completely warped by warfare, it's one of the "crazy ones" who arrives amongst a group of people who eventually convince him that he is the one with the problem.

2.) TJ: I don't know if you're talking about my own reviews or the site in general. My favorite overall review is still Carlos' review of 6 Angels. Of my own 147 titles I've reviewed, I'd say my favorite is Fractale. which I feel is the most complete review I've done for something amongst my reviews (aside from maybe Mayoi Neko Overrun!).

CR: Trying to single out one review from the four hundred I've completed is very, very hard. But one star reviews that come to mind include Six Angels, Apocalypse Zero, and Skelter+Heaven. Honestly, the one stars crack me up -- because those shows are just so awful that it almost becomes necessary to laugh in order to justify having spent our time watching those shows.

SH: It's hard to be one's own critic, but I generally tend to prefer my reviews on a show I honestly liked, where I felt the words were coming together well. As such, I'm going to go with my Bunny Drop review for this one. It used to be that lambasting a show I honestly hated was the most fun part of reviewing anime, but I kind of relegated that part of the deal to our synchro sessions.

AF: Unlike a lot of reviewers, I suspect, I actually prefer to lavish praise on the stuff I love more than I love to tear into the stuff I hate. On that basis, I have a great fondness for my Key: The Metal Idol review. It is by far my longest and just having the opportunity to address such a unique and special anime was a great pleasure. I love talking about quality series that are often forgotten - stuff like Kuucho Buranko, Aoi Bungaku and Mouryou no Hako. If someone can have a great anime experience thanks to my reviews then I am satisfied.

NB: I think the review that came most naturally to me may have been Evangelion 2.0: You Can (Not) Advance, which is one of the few positive reviews where I felt I was able to perfectly convey the sentiment of just how much I enjoyed it. I have to admit it's a lot easier for me to write negative reviews because I have less trouble writing criticism than I do giving solid reasons (e.g. anything besides "It's just awesome") as to why something is good. It's a weakness I want to work on.

In this case, I think what helped me was having a fairly extensive knowledge of the franchise and having the opportunity to watch the movie twice: I saw it once before it came out in the US and before I started reviewing here, and had the chance to see it again before writing the review. Because of that, I felt that I was able to confirm some positive aspects that I had wondered if I had made up or exaggerated before, and I was also able to write in more detail.

I seriously do wish that I had this opportunity for all good shows. I love Nana dearly, but watching a 47 episode series twice just isn't feasible given the restrictions of real life. Because of that, that review isn't quite as specific as I might have wanted.

3.) TJ: Can't really think of any, really. I tend to separate real life and fiction when I watch something.

CR: Encouragement of Climb speaks to me because I spend a lot of time outdoors hiking and birding when I'm not watching anime or reading manga.

SH: The title Bunny Drop comes across much clearer this time around. I do have a rather large roster of slice of life shows on my resume -- some proper and some idealized -- but I guess Bunny Drop is one of the few that could actually wring very good drama out of everyday events without having to go overboard on anything. There is a very touching realness to that show that you don't really see all that often.

AF: I think all great shows make you think about real-life. The very best shows are the ones that get you to think or act differently. However, Niea_7 is one show that I watched and said "Here is my life!" My life is pretty much a mix of poverty and madness i.e. tons of fun.

NB: There are a couple of possible examples, but BECK comes to mind. Of all the music-based anime I have seen, it takes the most realistic look at what it actually means to learn an instrument, practice, and put in the effort to be good. If you've seen The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, consider that episode where Haruhi more-or-less magically comes up with the ability to sing in spite of never having done so before, while Yuki Nagato picks up and plays a guitar perfectly for the first time. While I liked that scene, it never stopped feeling artificial to me; as a musician, I know for a fact that this just doesn't happen in real life. Even Kids on the Slope, which I like a whole lot better than Haruhi, glosses over that fact and has them effortlessly adapt to a new style (which is a lot harder than it sounds).

In BECK, we get a sense that the main character is a good musician precisely because he worked hard at it, not in spite of not doing so, and that's an attitude that I appreciated. The work of his mentors isn't dismissed, either, and that's an aspect that most music-based anime seem to miss. Very few (if any) musicians made it anywhere without mentorship at some point, but here, his relationship with the older musicians and that with his swim coach and guitar teacher is an incredibly important factor.

I also have to say that the show's less-than-nostalgic look at the high school years resonated with me. The main character's true friends are those with whom he has something profound and personal to share, in this case music, and most of his high school friends are honestly pretty lousy people. The show doesn't make light of bullying or the fact that people will go along with the stupidest things, both aspects of high school that I feel most anime eschew in favor of turning it into an unrealistic arena for gag comedies or into a too-perfect setting for romances. I don't mind the former and the latter isn't always a total loss, but anime's constant focus on how wonderful high school was can grate on me rapidly given how artificial that sentiment can be. BECK was about moving onto something else and something more personal, more so than most shows I've seen, and in that regard, it felt sincere to me.

4.) TJ: I still stand after all these years that the 1940s era of Warner Bros.'s animated shorts are among the best cartoons ever made. Disney might have better looking and more iconic cartoons (I love Donald Duck), and MGM's cartoons might have more energy and emotion in their music, but when it comes to memorable cartoons and fast-paced, laugh out loud cartoons, nothing to me beats the works of Bob Clampett, Chuck Jones, Tex Avery, Robert McKimson, and Friz Freleng. For early television cartoons, Rocky & Bullwinkle and the early episodes of The Flinstones make me laugh. I've also always been a huge fan of the early seasons of The Simpsons, especially anything between 1991 through 1997, and I love Futurama. I also liked the early episodes of The Ren & Stimpy Show. For most recent cartoons, I like Gravity Falls and Regular Show.

As for my least favorite cartoon? There was a lot of low-budget, barely watchable cartoons in the 1970s and 1980s. (I've always hated The Smurfs even as a kid.) I can't really single one out, since picking cartoons based on live-action shows would be shooting fish in a barrel. If I had to name a specific awful cartoon, probably Yogi's Space Race, which completely missed the point of the franchise as a whole. Never liked the Sylvester & Tweety cartoons, either.

CR: I always thought Gargoyles was a fantastically told series. As far as movies, I really like Disney films - Frozen rocked my world.

Least favorite: Clutch Cargo. Superimposing live-action footage of voice actors onto cartoons is one of the absolute creepiest things I've ever seen, and a really terrible way to avoid having to animate your cartoon. Fail fail fail.

SH: My favorite piece of animation of all time is Fantasia, mostly because it's such a gorgeous showpiece of animation craft, timed expertly to the music used. However, I would also like to give some accolades to my second favorite animation of all time, and a bit of a Christmas tradition on my part; namely The Snowman, a short piece based on the picture book by Raymond Briggs.

Least favorite is a bit harder to pick, though, mostly because I haven't really kept up with the more recent releases made in the US or in Europe, and when I DO watch them, they're either great or merely just "good". I don't really have a non-Japanese "worst ever" anymore. I guess I could have nominated the sequels to movies like...ay, Secret of Nimh, if I had actually watched it. Which I won't.

AF: I like Futurama. Yeah, it's a boring answer but that's just how it is.

NB: I'm a big fan of Daria, along with the older seasons of The Simpsons, though most of the episodes coming out now don't interest me. I also love the movie The Triplets of Belleville, which was one of the first animated movies I saw that was distinctly NOT a children's movie. It made me aware that such things existed, and that animation is a medium and not a genre.

I'd cite Family Guy as by far my least favorite American cartoon, or at least the one that's popular that I most wish wasn't. In my opinion, it's just a lousy excuse for a sitcom: clunky dialogue, bad art and animation, "cutaway" jokes that seem a lot more clever than they are, unfunny morbidity, and awful, awful characters. It's borderline unwatchable for me.

5.) TJ: When I was a little I actually watched a lot of public television, believe it or not. Aside from the aforementioned cartoons in question #4, Seasame Street was among one of the first television shows I ever saw, and made me a lifelong fan of Jim Henson and his Muppets. Other shows I watched were Ducktales (which I still love), Animaniacs (ditto), The Cosby Show, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Garfield and Friends, Pee-Wee's Playhouse, and reruns of Gilligan's Island, The A-Team, and All In The Family. I also used to watch Mystery Science Theater 3000 when it aired on a low-tech station named WGTW 48, until they pulled it off in the late 1990s.

CR: I watched Mazinger Z, Voltron, Robotech when I was really young, and Ronin Warriors and Mysterious Cities of GoldM later on, but it was only when I was in college and working at a video store that I decided to start writing reviews. More than anything, it was the lack of coverage and comprehensive reviews in 1998 that prompted me to join THEM Anime then.

SH: Norway got its share of Disney, Warner Bros or Hanna Barbera cartoons when I was growing up, so you better believe I got my share of Donald Duck shorts, Warner Bros stuff with Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and others, or even some Tex Avery stuff.

We also got a lot of really weird stuff from the rest of Europe, though I'm pretty sure a lot of it was from Poland or (then) Czechoslovakia, like the somewhat infamous Pat & Mat. Which was titled "To Gode Naboer" (directly translated "two good neighbors" in English.)

But I think my childhood's best kind of nightmare fuel was found in Norwegian puppet show Pompel og Pilt. (Do searches at your own peril.) That show is older than I am, and it scarred a lot of young, impressionable minds at the time. So of course I had to buy the DVD when it was released.

AF: I've actually always been more into books and movies than TV shows. I honestly think that the first television series that I ever watched from beginning to end was Evangelion of all things. So what inspired me? It might sound silly but you could say that it was my senpai here at THEM are the ones that inspired me. It was reading things like Carlos's 6 Angels that helped me to see the fun in reviewing and eventually led me to try my own hand at it.

NB: I think that it was Pixar's output and the Miyazaki movies that left me with a respect for the medium of animation in general, and it's those two bodies of work that eventually led me to see that it could in fact be taken seriously.

Personally, I think that if I had just grown up with the various series on PBS, Cartoon Network, and Nickelodeon I watched when I was in grade school I might never have ended up here. Though a few of those shows have proven to be interesting in retrospect (and some I just have nostalgia for), I'm just not a huge fan of the Ren and Stimpy generation of cartoons. At one point, everyone was trying to be an irreverent, offbeat, cynical series with gross-out humor and characters you were supposed to hate, and while the animation style could be interesting, I feel that most of those shows are severely restricted by their juvenility. Those first two bodies of work, in contrast, showed me that even "children's" movies could be transcendent.

I did actually "grow up on" some television anime without realizing what they were, though they weren't necessarily my favorite things to watch back then. I had some suspicion that they weren't like everything else that was airing, since I noticed that what was airing on Toonami had "something" different from what was on the rest of Cartoon Network, but since it was all dubbed in English I didn't pick up on what it was. I remember loving Sailor Moon and not admitting that to anybody (out of fear of being seen as "girly"), and that Dragon Ball was one of my favorites, ironic given my complete disinterest in it now. I also recall watching and feeling weird about Tenchi Muyo, which was really not made for people my age, and being bored and confused by Gundam Wing, which seemed to have too much talking and too little doing.

In retrospect, most of what I was watching, Dragon Ball aside, wasn't really made for people as young as I was, and I think I had to reach an age where my attention span wasn't completely pathetic to get into the medium.

6.) TJ: That I flat-out knew was anime? Astro Boy. Yes, the original, 1963 version. You can't get much older than that with anime outside of movies.

As for what inspired me to start writing reviews, well I've always enjoyed writing. Even before I had the Internet, I wrote (very, very embarrassing) fan fiction and for years I used LiveJournal. I kinda stumbled on THEM Anime by chance after reading their reviews for the good part of a year or so until early 2003, when I submitted some reviews. And the rest was history.

SH: It's entirely possible that some of the stuff I watched while younger might have been anime, but the first anime I actively sought out was horror series franchise 3x3 Eyes. It hasn't aged in the best of ways, but the OAV series had a lot of really neat ideas that I rather liked, and it's a shame that the manga it was based on never made it any further than it did for an US release. A huge shame indeed.

AF: I was exposed to glimpses of shows like Mysterious Cities of Gold, Pokemon, Digimon and Strange Dawn (the latter which I still have some keen nostalgia for) but it was Eva, given to me during my early teens, that constitutes my first real anime.

NB: My Neighbor Totoro, which was my favorite movie when I was little. According to my parents, they bought that for my brother and me on the recommendation of a (sadly now-deceased) friend of my dad's from Japan, and I think I have seen that movie more than any other, anime or otherwise. I have him to credit for being here at all, I now realize.

The first show I actually watched while realizing it was anime, however, was Cowboy Bebop, which is what pushed me into watching it regularly. I stumbled upon that the first time I went to my high school's anime club, and while they showed plenty of crap (I recall sitting through and hating Umineko, specifically) there was no going back as soon as I saw this one. The episode they were airing was "Mushroom Samba", a glorious tribute to spaghetti westerns, and I probably have more nostalgia for that one episode than any specific show or movie.

7.) TJ: If it's a genre I'm familiar with, I typically compare it to others of its kind. For anything else, I judge by story and characters. I've dropped a few series for potential review writing due to not being able to like its cast. It's not that I want everyone to be nice in a series, but when one or more characters are incredibly repugnant, it turns me off. (To throw but one example, Winner Sinclair from Karin is the reason I never reviewed the series and let Stig do so. I seriously could not stand him.)

SH: I tend to see if the two shows in question either have somewhat similar character types or if they have story similarities.

AF: Haibane Renmei has been my by-word for quality since I watched it years ago. It is the epitome of everything I want in a series. For more particular examples I would use Princess Tutu in the case of excellent series composition or The Tatami Galaxy in the case of particularly well realised themes.

For my bad anime I have a few. Yosuga no Sora is my favourite when I'm faced with a particularly disgusting show, A Bridge to the Starry Skies or Fortune Arterial for the particularly boring and Katanagatari for something particularly pretentious.

NB: Before you read this, bear in mind the fact that even I admit that I'm a snob and that my views are harsher than average.

A bad anime for me is an anime whose tropes are the most visible aspect of it. I'm a lot more likely to forgive a flawed show that tried something interesting (Mysterious Girlfriend X comes to mind) than a "safe" anime that, while devoid of glaring flaws, is nonetheless also devoid of distinguishing characteristics. That may be a dangerous thing to say, since experiments can go wrong (just look at the mess they made with the Blame! adaptation) but nonetheless, I think that an inclination towards "safeness" in any artistic medium is that medium's downfall. Complacency does far more damage than does an ambitious mess.

Either that, or the show is boring, since I feel no forgiveness when it comes to boredom-inducing material. If a show's main positive aspect is how "moe" it is, meanwhile, I'm done with it. I have seen some shows with that aesthetic that have been pretty good, even great (e.g. Ground Control to Psychoelectric Girl), but a series relying on it for all of its support is like a skyscraper that was built on a foundation made of Jello. It's just going to fall apart.

What I want, in short, are shows in which it isn't painfully obvious that everything was thrown in to appeal to a small, diehard field of Japanese otaku: the premise has some integrity, the characters transcend or at least play with the archetypes we expect, the art is interesting (a depressing rarity now), the show does something important with its visual aspect (another depressing rarity), and comic relief does not destroy the fabric of the show. It's amazing to me how few shows satisfy even one of those conditions.

8.) TJ: As noted earlier, I used to write really bad fan fiction, and continued to for quite a deal longer than that. On the subject of doujin, I remember this really awesome doujin that crossed over, of all series in the world, Azumanga Daioh with Fist of the North Star. Sadly I can't remember it, but I thought at the time it was the coolest idea in the world. I also own two volumes of the Sailor Moon doujin series Moon Fight!, which were mostly short parodies featuring the Sailor Moon cast. It's also relatively clean, and a few of them made me laugh even without knowing Japanese.

Stig has also shared with me once an Aria doujin that was really good (forgot its name).

SH: I picked up the Strike Witches "Witch in Africa/Witches of the Sphinx" series, which I found to be pretty well made Strike Witches doujinshi -- easily on par with the anime series it was based on... somewhat loosely.

I have also read the Haibane Renmei doujinshi -- the little that was made -- and I have to say it's a shame no more of it was made.

Some other short unofficial pieces I've read that was kind of neat:

- Yotsuba: Ten Years After.
- Spice and Wolf: Harvest.
- Vocaloid: White Radio (which had really nice art.)
- Various Touhou stuff.
- The R-rated "Living With..." series, by the guy who's now doing the Monster Musume manga.

Don't think I've read any terrible doujinshi. At least not yet.

AF: I am not in the habit of doing so but I remember reading a particularly interesting alternate-ending doujinshi for Eva. I wish I could remember the title but it was quite a long time ago. It was a better ending for the show than the one it got.

NB: Not really, but I've been interested in trying to dig up the old Haibane Renmei doujinshi that was never finished.

Is there a possibility for video reviews rather than typed reviews? - Connor Waltman

TJ: Nope! Sorry.

To write a longer response, we have no interest in doing video reviews. Here are three major reasons:

1.) A video review, even just sitting in front of a camera and talking about a show for 15 minutes, could take hours to do. None of us have the free time for such a task for a review site for free.
2.) YouTube copyright for using clips. As I don't download anime and seldom buy any (I would have to own DVDs of a series to burn them for video purposes), I'd rather "play it safe" and just talk about a series in words.
3.) I like reading reviews more so than hearing people out-loud review things. I can read the same material people would talk about in 15 minutes in 5 minutes by reading it.

CR: Since there's no way to convert many of our older reviews to video format as those reviewers have since retired, it wouldn't make sense to have our reviews be presented in inconsistent media format.

Not only that, but the idea of converting my four hundred existing reviews into videos is horribly daunting. That's a lot of effort, and I feel it's better to continue providing the high-quality service to fans in text format, rather than experimenting with a video review format that I personally do not particularly enjoy when watching others. The vast majority of video reviews (even those others consider to be good) just come off to me as "some dude talking into a camera" and that's just not something I think would serve our audience well. I vastly prefer a textual format, especially since videos can not be "speed-read".

I've been wondering for sometime how to become a reviewer. I'm 16 (almost 17) and wish to put reviews and ratings up for the site. I come here often to read the reviews and ratings given for shows. I find it quite helpful and hope to help people too with my reviews. So if it's possible to become a reviewer please tell me how.

Yours Truly, Danni. - Danni Henderson

TJ: Thank you for asking such a question.

Before we look over a forum member's credentials to become a reviewer, we generally wait until he/she has submitted at least six (if not more) reviews on the forums. After that, to become a reviewer we typically look for these days someone with a keen sense of writing, and someone who can boast new reviews on somewhat a consistent basis. (I say "somewhat" because some of us go months or even years between reviews. ^^; ) You also have to be able to accept comments and criticism as well.

In general, we look for happy, perky individuals who like watching/writing about anime and like to express themselves.

I've been watching anime heavily for about a year now, after spending most of my adult life plugged into visual art. (I also need to mention here that THEM has been an invaluable guide to navigating Sturgeon's Law. I truly owe you all money for it, and will remedy this shortly.)

Here are my questions:

1) Why do so many anime series exhibit a kabuki-like allegiance to certain tropes: the school festival episode, the beach episode, the culture festival episode (yukata!), and perhaps the New Year celebration too. I love that show makers feel compelled to do these things, but wonder if it's a voluntary nod to cultural tradition, or a great way to demo one's chops in remaking old tropes anew (I seem to see a lot of that), or some formal obligation imposed by the producers for business/political reasons. In any case it's one rooted meme, and I'd love to know why.

2) What criteria do the THEM reviewers use to judge anime music (and here I refer to the background music rather than the opening or closing themes). Aside from obvious geniuses such as Yoko Kanno (plagiarism charges aside), there seems to be a wide range of composing talent going into anime - most conforms (sometimes brilliantly) to the pop filler genre, but some stands out for its pure musicality to such an extent that I'm now following specific composers across shows. For example, Kotaro Nakagawa does striking work in Hayate and Stella Women's Academy - but then I wonder if by your standards such music can be so striking it actually competes with the story and visuals (arguably the case with Stella).

3) What is up with the persistent theme of h3nt4i-mockery which seems to run through so many shows? I have to assume fanservice exists for commercial reasons, but many show makers seem to go to great amounts of trouble -- often artistically brilliant trouble -- to include shots, scenes, or even (in the case of Beyond The Boundary) entire episodes devoted to making fun of the presumed fanservice demographic of slobbering p3doph!le h3nt4i-gentsia who for all I know keep such shows afloat financially for the benefit of the rest of us (for the record, fanservice makes me laugh rather than horny). Are the recipients of such mockery expected to suffer through such treatment in order to savor their beloved up-skirts? Or do they actually enjoy seeing themselves mocked? The whole phenomenon strikes me as recursively complex and uninterpretable, so any cultural perspective you can offer would be much appreciated.

Thanks (for both your answers and your fine work with THEM),

Richard Gleaves

1.) TJ: I assume it's for the same reasons why American cartoons do episodes about birthdays and holidays such as Thanksgiving, Halloween, and Valentine's Day; sentimental value, or because it works. It's a trend I notice happening a lot more in anime that take place over the time span of a year or even a few months.

That, or the writers are lazy and just rely on established tropes because they know they'll work (i.e. two people getting stuck in the snow together, or the girl in a romance story freaking out when she sees her love interest with another girl, only for her to be revealed as his sister/cousin).

CR: Part of this is that there is a very strictly regimented schedule to Japanese school life based on the seasons. It's little different than us having Thanksgiving and Christmas episodes to our TV shows, or school-oriented series featuring homecoming / prom. Cultural festivals and field trips are part and parcel of the Japanese experience. If anything, it's nice to sometimes see *regional* traditions (local festivals, etc) get represented in anime and manga, in ways that the very urban California and New York-centric nature of US television seem to miss (ie. mums in Texas, quinceaneras in the Southwest, deer camp in the North, et cetera).

In short, these are things so deeply rooted in the school experiences of Japanese people (and often idealized on the part of anime creators) that to omit them would be as unrealistic as, I dunno, portraying Arizona as being a two hour drive from New York City.

SH: I suspect everyday or seasonally traditions are a given when it comes to slice-of-life shows. Many of them are a yearly thing, so if you're going to be involved into the lives of Japanese anime characters, then festivals and celebrations are a given, I should think. Of course, in many cases, it's just as much used as an opportunity to throw variably adorable girls into yukatas and such. But mostly, it's probably a cavalcade of traditions and a remembrance of things they've actually been involved in at some point in their lives -- or maybe will in the near future. Beach episodes are more of a seasonal thing; some shows have it because that's what people do during summer, while others do it because boys or girls look damn sweet in swimsuits. (Depending on what kind of show we're talking about -- I imagine the recently made Free might kickstart a new craze with beach episodes in shows starring mostly boys.)

AF: I cannot say for sure but I suspect it is simply because audiences like tropes. Both writers and audiences like things that are comfortable.

NB: I'm not an expert on this, but in my opinion, a part of it is perceived commercial viability, another part of it is the desire to include aspects that the diehard fans will (presumably) always want, and the last is lazy writing. To answer your question, I don't think it's a voluntary nod, since most people in Japan (I feel) are already at least vaguely aware of these traditions and don't necessarily need to be reminded of them. The best comparison I can think of is Christmas specials over here: I imagine that a lot of producers would be happy to not make them, considering how similar they all are, but since they bring in the advertisers and their absence can create more questions than one really feels like dealing with, the television shows go on featuring them. It's easy to sell a show that has some pre-established characteristics that are likely to draw in regulars of the medium, and because of that, beach episodes and festival episodes are a safe bet, entirely in spite of how banal they may be.

A handful of anime, Hotarubi no Mori e and Mysterious Girlfriend X being two examples, have depicted festival and beach scenes (respectively) that were actually pretty interesting, however, In those cases, even if the intent of including them in the first place was not a conscious choice, I think that the desire to turn them into something special was, and I appreciated that both times. The latter example might be the only series in which a "beach" episode was one of my favorite scenes. So I do think it's very possible to consciously do something new with that type of episode, even if it's highly unlikely there's a guy at the back of the brainstorming session shouting "BEACH EPISODE! WANT!"

In short, I think that for all but a few types of show (a beach episode in Texhnolyze would be something to see) it's a bit of an expectation akin to having Christmas episodes here, and it's a trend that probably won't die away. I'm less likely to mind it if the surrounding show is interesting; while RahXephon had pointless beach episodes, the show itself was pretty good. A beach episode is not hard to write, I imagine, which is why the lazy writing is a part of it: one can only hope that a beach or festival episode is in fact a writer taking a break from the hard part and not merely the writer taking a siesta before going to sleep for the night. To that extent, School Days was bad regardless of whether it had a swimsuit episode or not: it was badly-written drivel during that episode, and it was badly-written drivel before and afterwards.

2.) TJ:Music is very, very much a subjective subject, because everyone has different opinions on what they consider good music. In my case, music has to stick out a lot in a series for me to take note of it. This includes both good and bad music. If a show's music leaves no impact on me in a review, I'll just write one sentence about it and move on.

And yes, I've seen series where I cared for the music just as much as the story or characters within it. Aside from Yoko Kanno (who you noted already) and her fantastic work on Cowboy Bebop, I always really liked the soundtrack to His and Her Circumstances. It remains to this day the only anime soundtrack I've ever bought. I also love Aria's music, which is just icing on the cake of an already great anime.

Oh yes, and the soundtrack to Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt was pretty fantastic, too.

CR: Honestly for me it depends on how well it meshes with the show's themes and ethos. One of the artists who perennially challenges and confuses me is Susumu Hirasawa -- it took me a while for me to warm up to his at times strident work, especially initially for Berserk, but then his work for Millennium Actress was utterly brilliant and thematically integral to the movie. On a less avant-garde level, I enjoyed the music for Non Non Biyori - an understated, but skilled soundtrack can get you places, and the trend towards indie rock instead of J-pop breaks the monotony.

Whereas you're not going to necessarily expect something super revolutionary from, say, Yuru Yuri - it's definitely all about cute characters singing bubblegum pop songs that may or may not get you to play them on loop in your car whether you think they're actually good or not. All you can hope for, then, is that the songs aren't too obnoxious (the promo for Tenbatsu Angel Rabbie coming immediately to mind as a "worst possible case" scenario, musically speaking).

It really ultimately depends on the reviewer's tastes in the end ... not all of us put the same emphasis on every aspect of film, and that's simply an aspect of each reviewer's individuality.

SH: I honestly wonder if personal taste dictate this more than anything else. I'm... somewhat peculiar about my music, particularly about the genres I like. As such, stuff like rock music, or even pop music, tends to be a gamble for me. I've already listened to a ton of it, so few anime really has music that stands out in that regard, even shows that incorporate it, like K-On or the more recent Super Sonico anime.

When it comes to orchestral fare, though; I'm a bit better overall on it. Not as often name recognition, though, but the first anime I consciously watched had music done by Kaoru Wada, which had a musical style I rather liked. Which is why it was so delightfully surprising when I actually recognized his work for Inuyasha. That, and there was a rather sharp contrast to Inuyasha's theme songs compared to the in-show music.

I also recently watched Kids on the Slope, which incorporated a lot of really well-played jazz into its repertoire. These jamming sessions have to be seen to be believed.

AF: The most important thing about BGM is and always will be how it affects the scene it is used in.

NB: I've played enough classical music (I'm a cellist) that I can usually tell when the phrasing in the background music is at all effective. The best example of what you're talking about for me might be the Texhnolyze soundtrack, where the electronic sounds define a large portion of the moribund, empty, and terminally sorrowful aesthetic of the show, and where it's used to especially great effect during the scenes of violence. The extremely dissonant soundtrack to Angel's Egg also stands out in my mind, particularly the plunking piano pieces that accompany the scenes in which the statues come to life.

The music is likely to make an impression, I feel, if it somehow complements the visuals and helps the series or movie create an impression without using any words, which both of those two examples did. I appreciate good atmospheric music such as Joe Hishaishi's scores and even the music in the new Evangelion movies, but a lot of background music in today's anime is kind of just there, I feel. Some of it has to do with budget, since a full score is expensive, and sometimes with incompetence or disinterest, since I think a lot of directors probably couldn't care less about the music as long as it doesn't scare the fans away; if you listen, you can usually notice that the music is played by a small handful of instruments (with much of the orchestral stuff being synthesized). A lot of anime music also recycles the melody of its main themes, if you listen closely, though this isn't always bad; I remember watching Monster and thinking that the variations on David Sylvian's song "For the Love of Life" (the ED in all versions outside of the US) that played in the background were positively beautiful.

3.) TJ: I must watch different anime than you, because I seldom see the fanservivce trope poked at in the series I watch (outside of gag comedies). If anything, it's more common now than ever before. Granted the actual content itself has been toned down due to increasingly stricter television standards, but you still see the occasional naked bath scene, panty, or whatever. Bounce and big breasts seem more common too (though the opposite, flat-chested girls, has also as well). I do agree with you it's hypocritical for anime studios to do this when for some of them it's their bread and butter in money making for the shows that do do this, though.

CR: There's definitely a deep degree of self-deprecation in Japanese fandom - the vast majority of them still seem to adhere to the monomaniacal "basement boy" stereotype that no longer applies to many fans in the West. Since many of the folks in the industry are ascended fans, there's definitely a keen self-referentialism as well -- I guess if it's fans making fun of other fans, that makes it okay.

It doesn't always make for great storytelling or creativity, coming from an outside perspective, but remember that otaku are inherently outsiders in Japanese society, and even negative attention is still attention, to many people's eyes.

SH: I plead the fifth.

I kid, but I'm going to claim ignorance on this one. It's... not that fanservice itself bothers me. It's just a lot of the ways it's incorporated into the shows that feature them. Some shows are just trying too hard these days.

AF: Anime for better and for worse is locked in a state of inward looking self-referential post-modernism. It is not universal but a great deal of anime has no frame of reference outside of itself. It is not just h3ntai but all manner of tropes that exist in anime. How many anime are filled with tsundere jokes and that kind of stuff? I suspect it is because that sort of humour is what the otaku market is comfortable with. Star Trek jokes amuse Star Trek fans after all so why would otaku who dedicate so much time to one niche of media be any different?

NB: It boils down to the fact that there's an unfortunate amount of commercial viability in sexualizing women, even if that's not necessarily acceptable to show on television, and so we get this uncomfortable and insincere mockery that, at the same time, is an implicit endorsement of it. To start off, the sexualization itse;f isn't entirely a cultural thing; just look at how women dress in American action movies, or watch any American beer commercial. Fanservice draws in big bucks. I think that the shows make fun of the perverts for being perverts, however, because it's culturally inappropriate to encourage such behavior, even if they seem to still sanction the idea that all boys are horny. The scenes, thus, are put there for the purpose of baiting male viewers who want to watch this stuff. They're going to keep making money off of showing this double standard of "perverted boys spying on pure, chaste girls", and when the boys are mocked the humor doesn't exactly do anything to criticize this double standard. Notice how the girls very rarely seek legal or even disciplinary action, and how in the case of the "pervert best friend," an archetype that needs to die in flames, the girls rarely ever seem to truly mind his being there. I feel that many of these characters would deserve restraining orders if they were around in real life, but these tropes give people this weird license to feel like it's okay to be a pervert, even though it really isn't.

hy do you guys do "partial" reviews?

Reason why I ask is, I looked up a review of Suzuka (my first time discovering the site). It was givin a 1 out of 5 stars, I was wondering why it was so low and I scrolled down to see Review Status: Partial (2/26). I then thought that's why the score is low (please excuse the bold print... I do not now how that happened or how to fix it). I know you said "no questions about why you guys gave the score you did" but it bugs me that you guys judge a anime before seeing all of it. "Partial" reviews don't help me tbh, I mean, I love the site and use it to read up on anime I'm interested in, but when I see that "partial" review at the bottom I look else where. I know you guys have your own lives to get back to and cant watch every episode of every anime, but it doesn't seem fair to judge a series buy one or two episodes, it should be from beginning to end (unless its 100+ episode series). That's my thought anyway. - Jake Ripper

TJ: I agree with you, to an extent. I too would rather read a review of someone who watched the whole series before writing about it. But sometimes length and/or money can be an obstacle, too. Remember; prior to just a mere five years ago, there were no huge streaming sites on the Internet except for crunchyroll. One would have to either buy a series for review (unless they got screener copies, which no one here but Carlos ever obtained), or downloaded it.

For the past four or so years we've made it a policy over the past few years to no longer review partial series as much as possible. On the occasion we'll go back to older series and fully finish them up, but that's rare. (Case in point, the Suzuka review was written by a staff member who no longer writes reviews for THEM Anime.)

Hi Tim. Here is a Q&A for you. I intended to send to you a few weeks ago, but I accidentally sent it to Nick instead. In case he didn't forward it to you, here it is:

Hello Tim. I've been a long time reader of THEM Anime Reviews from the Philippines (which happens to be Carlos' native country; I already e-mailed him about that a year and a half ago). I can't remember exactly what year I discovered the site, but it was before 2008, and that I discovered the site while searching reviews for Najica Blitz Tactics, and I've been reading the site ever since.

Since you're one of THEM's most prolific reviewers, and also because I have a non-Q&A question for you after this set of questions, I'll ask you some:
1. According to your profile, you first discovered anime 1996; your first anime was Astro Boy. How did you find those VHS tapes? Did you rent them, or did you just happen to find them?
2. What was the anime that you watched that made you decide to take your interest seriously?
3. You graduated with a degree in Marketing. What is your current occupation, if any? (Optional; it's OK if you don't want to answer this: are you currently in a relationship with someone?)
4. What are your tastes in music? (Optional: If you have an interest in anime music, who are the artists you like or the composers you admire?)
5. You had been reviewing for THEM since 2003 or so (more than 10 years already!), but didn't become a member of the "Editorial Junta" until much later, despite having contributed several reviews to the site. Was there any particular reason for the delay?
Finally, 5. Among the anime announced for 2014 (including sequels), what are the anime you are most looking forward to, and why?

Thank you very much, and I hope you can under these questions.

One last thing. This question has been bothering me for years now, and I feel that this Q&A is finally the time to ask it. Like most of THEM. I remember reading your Natsu no Arashi! review. Like most THEM reviews that discussed major plot points, it has a spoiler warning. However, unlike any other review I've read anywhere else, you ask the reader to first try the series before reading the rest of the review. I have not read any other review that makes such a recommendation of seeing a series before, rather than after, reading a review. What was your reason behind making your recommendation?

And speaking of Natsu no Arashi, your rhyming review of the second season was one of the best things I ever read. You guys should try making more of those.

Thank you very much, and hopefully you can answer most or all of these questions. - Fredrik Ezekiel de Jesu

1.) TJ: I was sick from school when my father got the copies of the series from a friend of his at work. How my father, who has barely seen an anime in his life, obtained such tapes I have no idea. I watched them and enjoyed them, hokey 60s animation and all.

2.) TJ: Kodocha was the first anime that got me into the hobby. I think it was watching Wedding Peach that perked my interest in review writing as a whole, though.

SH: There is no "THE" anime that ignited my interest in the whole broad spectrum of animated cartoons from Japan. 3x3 Eyes, the aforementioned first show I voluntarily watched, certainly did its part, but my interest was more or less solidified after watching a long string of shows; some good, some bad and some just plain odd. All of them were basically shows that kept my interest afloat, and it's probably a stroke of luck that I didn't accidentally happen upon the really terrible stuff until I was safely a fan.

AF: It was RahXephon. A concise twenty-six episodes, a compact but complex plot and characters I could connect with. It was all that I wanted from a TV series at the time so I decided to pursue the interest more.

NB: Neon Genesis Evangelion was the show that made me start to think about doing it, and Serial Experiments Lain was the one that convinced me. They did both made me aware that within the medium there were shows whose primary value lay in something deeper than pure entertainment, and Lain in particular convinced me to stick around and pay attention to just how the medium could take advantage of visual storytelling to say something that words never could. I seriously wish that more series did that, but I've seen enough shows like Texhnolyze and Kaiba, along with movies like Angel's Egg that I remain convinced that the possibility is not a fluke, even if most shows do underuse it.

3.) TJ: Yeah, I'm not going to answer that, I'm afraid.

4.) TJ: Having grow up with parents who own literally hundreds of records and CDs, I grew up listening to a lot of rock, including Yes, Supertramp, David Bowie, Bob Dylan, and Led Zepplin. As for me, I mostly gravitate towards 80s/90s rock music. I'm a big fan of the The B-52's, REM, Tears for Fears, Yes, The Cure (up until 1992), Dave Matthews Band, Electric Light Orchestra, Gorillaz, and to a lesser extent Ben Folds, Dire Straits, and Bob Dylan. I also really like 60s era Motown music.

SH: I mostly listen to rock/metal, progressive rock, electronica and some jazz and orchestral stuff on the side. Over the last couple of years, I've also taken a great interest in folk music from my home country.

I do listen to some Japanese pop music, most of which I was introduced to by anime titles. Names that comes to mind offhand are Yui Makino, who sung a lot of lovely songs for the Aria series, as well as Marble's numerous ending themes for the Hidamari Sketch series. I've already mentioned Kaoru Wada, and people like Yoko Kanno kind of goes without saying, so I'd like to end off this one with Choro Club, who gave the Aria series its absolutely wonderful soundtrack, and Ken Muramatsu, whom provided both Sketchbook and Umi Monogatari with an almost likewise memorable soundtrack.

AF: It sounds unhelpful to say it but I really just like what I like. Every genre is filled with the good and the bad so any list would be excessively long.

NB: I listen all over the place and have a hard time saying that I lean towards any particular genre, though I do have to admit that I listen to very little rap or heavy metal. It's a lot easier to define which musicians I like than it is to define which genres, but I will give it a shot.

I volunteer at a college radio station and have a two-hour show focused on "Americana", which is pretty much anything in American music that's at all closer to the "roots" than to the purely processed and encompasses a lot of bluegrass, folk, blues, and alt-country. I like a lot of indie music even though the scene can get on my nerves, along with some old Progressive Rock like Pink Floyd and Genesis (before Peter Gabriel left). The radio station specializes in not-so-well-known music, which is great because I find a lot of interesting musicians (like Emily Wells, King Creosote, and Angel Olsen) whom I would not have found otherwise. Elliott Smith, Nick Drake, Radiohead, Gillian Welch, and John Fahey stick out when I try to think of "favorites", meanwhile. I do also listen to a fair amount of classical, mostly cello music (since I play myself), and whatever jazz my dad recommends to me, since he knows a lot more than I do in that regard. That's about the best I can do without showing you my iPod.

Being a musician, I do have an interest in anime music and try to pay attention for the shows whose composers put more effort in than the token "sweeping dramatic strings" or the "plink plunk" you hear in every comedy since Azumanga Daioh. In addition to Yoko Kanno's stuff (which probably goes without saying), Ko Otani's Haibane Renmei soundtrack is a favorite of mine, and I often listen to it while working. Another that comes to mind is Alexandre Kassin's lovely mood-setting score in Michiko and Hatchin, especially the guitar pieces. I do also compile anime theme songs that I think are worth listening to, and while my not-especially-large interest in J-Pop keeps me away from some of them, among those that come to mind are both of the Origa/Yoko Kanno collaborations in Ghost in the Shell: SAC, The Delgados' "Light Before We Land" from Gunslinger Girl, and the Maaya Sakamoto-sung "Gravity" from Wolf's Rain, which is possibly my favorite ending song ever.

5.) TJ: Being an administrator is a big responsibility, so it takes a bit longer to become one than a moderator or even reviewer. Also at that time we already had four administrators and I already had the ability to upload reviews anyway, so I didn't think about it too much at the time. I didn't even KNOW I became an admin until I logged in one day on the forum and saw my username was now blue. That was a surprise!

6.) TJ: If it ever hyptohetically comes out, the new Sailor Moon anime this summer. Now I know how the people who waited for Diablo III and Duke Nukem Forever felt.

And yes, I would love to do another rhyming review. I need the right show to do it with, though. Maybe for my 150th review three reviews from now I might do it again..

1.) Are you going to make a best-of list by genre?

ie: What shows should serious collectors have of various types
of anime, old and new.

2,) Rahxephon vs. Neon Genesis?

Neon Genesis == first, and historically interesting, is
Rahxephon better? If you were having/educating kids, which would you
toss them first? Or only?- A Very Defiant Duckling Named Ender

1.) TJ: I would love for this myself, and this is not the first time we've talked about it. Unfortunately, the web page's limitations would need a large overhaul for this. Maybe one day.

CR: To make a best-of-list by genre, you'd first have to define genres. Given the cross-pollinatory nature of anime, this becomes very difficult, very quickly.

2.) TJ: As for Neon Genesis Evangelion vs. RahXephon, I'd suggest the former. Evangelion, while not a perfect series, is arguably one of the most important anime released in the 1990's, and there's a reason it's still talked about in 2014, nearly twenty years after its debut. It's been years since I saw RahXephon, and while many have told me it's superior to Evangelion, it doesn't get even close to the same amount of attention on the Internet.

I wouldn't bother with the Rebuild of Evangelion movies until you completed the original series, though. Though similar in plot (at least in the first move I've seen), the execution and characterizations are completely different. It's also more "mainstreamed", if that makes any sense.

CR: For the latter question - I like RahXephon more and I feel it's a more coherent narrative. I think Neon Genesis Evangelion is more historically important and psychologically complex. I'd let the kids decide based on that information.

Here's a question just for Nick:

Hello, good evening. I just read your review on 11 Eyes, and was just wondering about a minor part of the review. The review you gave to the series was rather negative (one star in fact), and from the looks of it, you pretty much recommended people to stay away from the anime. 

However, you also included a spoiler warning, which is a common (and recommended) courtesy, especially for (mainly Western) readers (as spoiler warnings are relatively uncommon in other languages, based on my experience) who haven't watched the series yet. I was just wondering, if a review on a series is negative, is it still recommended to include a spoiler warning even if the review itself tells readers to not watch the series? If the review was negative and the review essentially spoils the plot because of how bad the series is, in this particular case, are spoiler warnings still recommended? - Fredrik Ezekiel de Jesus

NB: Carlos put it fairly well in one post: he said "even if you're not recommending a series, you still want to give the viewer the option to decide for themselves whether or not they want to see it". I can't presume that people are going to avoid a show entirely because of my review, since people often read our reviews while reading those on other sites in order to gain a sense of the consensus, and while most reviews of 11eyes have been negative, mine is harsher than most. A spoiler warning is basically just courtesy.

I hope you enjoyed reading this Q&A session. Hopefully we can continue this later with the other members of THEM Anime. See you then!

- Tim Jones

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