Forgotten Japanese Singers – The Neutral

It’s been a while since I did one of these features. It turns out most anime songs don’t make much of an impression on me in the long run. I forget them pretty quickly, which means I don’t remember a lot of anisong singers/bands either. And the ones I do remember are often still active on the Japanese music scene and hardly “forgotten” at all. There might be a correlation between memorability and longevity when it comes to success in music, but I can’t prove it.

Still I dug deep into my archives and found something at last, hence today’s update… Or so I thought! It turns out this band is still active too! I’m happy for them, but how I am going to write my blog feature at this rate? Sorry The Neutral, today you’re going to have to pretend to be forgotten so I can “remember” you!

Today’s artist: The Neutral (ザニュートラル)

Notable anime song(s): Nichiyoubi no Taiyou (日曜日の太陽) from Narutaru

Biography: The Neutral is a Japanese pop band from Hyogo Prefecture. They were founded in 1998 (official website) with a current lineup of Shigeru on vocals, Kiyomasa on guitar and Homerun Yotani on bass. Until 2016 they were a 4-man group with Beat Daisuke on drums.

The original members all met as high schoolers, so they still have that “buddies teasing each other” air about them. Their profile page is just them making fun of each other from start to finish, interspersed with a bit of band history. I like it when bands have personality and don’t take themselves too seriously, it’s so funny.

Anyway, The Neutral made their major debut with “Chance wa Soko da!” under the Dream music label and released 4 albums before moving to their own label in 2012. They released their Best Of album, “The Neutral Best” in October 2013. One of the songs on it, “Kazoku no Jikan” made it to #2 on the charts, their highest ranking to date. According to the wired CAN system, whatever that is anyway. They’re still in the music business today and had a performance on October 22nd at a Rocktown festival in Osaka. They also released their 11th single “7170” in September 2017 so they’re doing pretty well.

I encountered The Neutral when I watched Narutaru and heard the opening song, Nichiyoubi no Taiyou. It has a light, cheerful reggae feel to it that isn’t common in Japanese music, much less in anime theme songs, so it stuck in my memory immediately. I liked reggae a lot, back then. The contrast between the poppy sounds and the mournful lyrics also synched up well with the cartoon graphics + unhappy events shown in Narutaru’s opening sequence. Not to mention the infamous disconnect between the early parts of the show and the later, darker episodes. It was a good choice of theme. Watching the anime once was enough for me, but I still listen to Nichiyoubi no Taiyou very often.

Other songs by The Neutral

Based on songs I found uploaded to Youtube. Let’s try a couple and see if it’s time to add The Neutral to my regular playlist.

Kimi ni Todoke (君に届け) – It’s a nice song, easy listening. Catchy and happy like Nichiyoubi no Taiyou. More impressive was how much fun the singers seemed to be having on the stage. Attending one of their lives would be a lot of fun. The audience seems to be full of surprisingly harmonious young ladies though… Maybe it’s not a live but a music video?

Kazoku no Jikan (かぞくのじかん) – Too sappy and sentimental for my liking. Mommy this, Daddy that, I don’t like those kinds of songs. Musically it’s a bit boring too.

Tatakai no Uta – Something to do with Aura Battler Dunbine? Its rather noisy.  It sounds like something Arashi or Hikari Genji or some other boy band would sing while running around the stage. Not sure if like.

Pan to Pistol (パンとピストル)- Amusing music video and lively song. Pan! Pan! Pan pan pan! It grows on you the longer you listen to it. I like it.

If you like Nichiyoubi no Taiyou, The Neutral’s songs are all in the same vein so I think you’ll like the others as well. The Neutral is pretty good.

Knight’s & Magic anime review – Not particularly good (spoilers)

Knight’s & Magic is set in a world where medieval knights use giant robots called Silhouette Knights to fight against demon beasts, magical ravenous animals that devour everything on sight. The protagonist is Tsubasa Kurata, a mecha otaku from Japan who gets killed in a car accident. Tsubasa is reincarnated in this new parallel world as Ernesti “Eru” Echavalier, a boy born into a noble family. Tsubasa’s previous otaku memories inspire Ernesti into creating his own Silhouette Knights in order to defend his kingdom. [Wikipedia]

The good:

  • Ernesti draws his only waifu

    No harem, at least for now. No having to deal with the main character getting flustered over girls. No time being wasted on relationship drama when better things could be happening. I like that.

  • Other people other than the main character play valuable roles and get some important kills. The side characters in Aldnoah Zero and In Another World with My Smartphone are weeping in envy.
  • There’s a LOT of mecha if you like that sort of thing. Each pilot goes through about 4 different mechs from starts to finish, from weak basic ones to almost invincible super robots. I like that Goldlion thingy, really cool. The Tzendolg centaur mechs were interesting too.
  • An enemy eventually shows up who has good machine ideas, so it’s not like he’s the only super-smart genius in the whole world.
  • Some of the mecha battles are actually pretty good. Nowhere near as smart or as strategic as in Aldnoah Zero, but since the machines are cooler here with more clearly-explained features they’re more fun to watch. Personal favorite is the first showdown between Ikaruga and the Drake.
  • Very little fanservice or innuendo and not much gore despite the huge number of casualties on both sides. It’s not exactly family-friendly but a younger crowd can watch Knight’s & Magic without too much trouble.

The bad

  • The main character is annoying with his supercilious super-polite attitude and constant positivity.
  • There was too much focus on mecha and not enough on the main character IMO. You never really get under his skin. In fact it’s not even a given that he has any skin to get under. He’s just a bundle of positive energy, no hopes or dreams or interests other than in mecha. It’s really boring. For the first half he doesn’t do much fighting either.
  • Too much focus on mecha development. I want to see the mechs doing their stuff, not sitting in a dockyard being worked on for half the show. The focus on development also means the machines are constantly changing, so you can never get attached to the designs and abilities of any robot until near the end.
  • I like robots. I like isekai. But I like them separate. I want to explore the other world when I watch such a show, but in Knight’s & Magic most of the time is spent working on robots with a bunch of other humans. MEH.
  • The premise promised battles against demon beasts, and indeed the first battle against the Behemoth was a cracking good one. But after that very few such beasts show up and it’s never explained where they’re from, what they’re after, where the technology to build these robots came from, etc. That’s why I said I wanted more world-building and fewer robots.
  • That first Behemoth battle where Ernesti hacked the robot was interesting as well. How come he never did it again? It gives much greater mobility and maneuverability. The trade-off is wearing out the machine faster, but with a little more practice he could have learned to control the limiters. It seemed like a waste to show him using the robot as a machine rather than as an extension of his body as he did at first.
  • Some characters like Addy and that princess girl are annoying. I wish Knight’s & Magic had had the guts to kill at least one of them off.

TL;DR

Knight’s & Magic has too much mecha, not enough isekai, main character is a shallow one-note bore and some of the other characters are a bit irritating. It’s worth a watch if you like the mecha side of things, or if you’re tired of shows where every girl is madly in love with the main character. For me it didn’t really have much to offer. I’ve seen better mecha and better isekai, and both quite recently. On to the next show!

In Another World with my Smartphone review – Oddly watchable

I might go beyond “oddly watchable” and term it “strangely enjoyable” actually. In Another World With My Smartphone (Isekai wa Smartphone to tomo ni) is a “hero in another world” show that plays the trope 100% by the book. The hero is smart, popular, rich, powerful and manages to solve everyone’s problems almost instantly without breaking a sweat.

Normally I would post a blurb from Wiki or something, but it’s even easier this time. When the show opens, Mochizuki Touya has been accidentally killed by “God.” As compensation “God” reincarnates him in a magical world with superpowered stats in every way imaginable. Plus he has his smartphone with Internet (but no e-mail) and mapping functions, which he eventually finds ways to use in increasingly broken ways. For example he can use the camera + magic to look through walls, he can use the map + magic to hit every enemy in an area and so on.

The fun of In Another World with my Smartphone comes from seeing just how much more broken Touya can get. Especially since he can use any spell in the world just by hearing about it – and can use it better and faster and longer than whoever he learned it from. It’s even more interesting once he starts to combine and stack various abilities.

And probably the best part is how he uses the simplest spells, especially Slip and Aports, when you would expect him to burst out something flashy. It’s like “I don’t even have to get serious any more.” Every week it’s like “Okay, what overwhelming challenge is Touya going to trivialize this week and how?”

As I mentioned back in my Konosuba review, the isekai genre became so common that focus turned to subversions of the idea. When it comes to anime adaptations now, it’s rare to find the trope being played straight without some kind of twist.

That’s nice and all, but what are the original lovers of the genre to do? What about those fans who want to see a hapless everyday dude get all the girls and kill all the enemies and have everyone fawn over him for no reason at all? Who thinks of their needs? So I think a show like In Another World with my Smartphone is important once in a while to remind anime watchers of what they’re missing/not missing depending on what side of the fence they’re on.

For my part I enjoyed this show a lot more than I thought I would. The complete lack of tension and threat made for a very easy watch. Around the same time I started In Another World with my Smartphone, I also tried the first episodes of Made in Abyss and Children of the Whales. I thought both animes were excellent, but heavy and stressful. You have to be ready to go in deep with shows like that. Meanwhile Smartphone is like popcorn, light meaningless fluff. You pop one into your mouth and then another and before you know it’s all gone. Simple stuff.

No, it was you and your cheating skills

Not that it doesn’t have its flaws. The worst part is the growing cast of girls – though again this is what genre fans watch the show for. The girls are all generic, forgettable cute girls who immediately fall for Touya and are eternally in awe of his battle prowess. But they’re not above bossing him around either.

It’s all stuff you’ve seen in a million anime series before. You don’t need to watch this show just to get that fix. IMO every second wasted on the antics of these girls and their petty jealousies should have been spent showcasing the further superhuman antics of Touya-sama.

Furthermore, more girls invariably means more opportunities for fanservice. The show can’t decide whether to make Touya a pervert or not so sometimes he’s leering at naked bodies, sometimes he’s anxiously averting his gaze. But while he can look away, the viewer is still forced to watch stuff like a random groping of a randomly introduced character, a very boring and pointless beach episode and a supposed-to-be sexy encounter with some poor misused slimes. We won’t even get into the amount of innuendo, which admittedly isn’t as bad as it could have been.

On the plus side, at least the issue of who Touya will end up with is resolved by the end of the show, which is more than I can say for 90% of all animes, harem or otherwise.

Overall I would rate In Another World with my Smartphone a 6/10. It gets top marks for lightness and easy-of-watchability, a term I just made up but will probably use more often because it’s something I look out for in anime. It also gets high marks for the happy atmosphere and bright visuals. More high marks for the otaku wish fulfillment factor, and I suppose the girls are all cute if that’s your kind of thing. It gets a big fat zero for just about everything else though. If you want an overpowered fantasy protagonist with a harem, this is your show. If not, stay far away.

Aldnoah Zero season two review [major spoilers]

As promised, I return with my thoughts on season two of Aldnoah Zero and of the series as a whole. Refer to my earlier post on the show for a summary of the story and a few thoughts on the first half.

All caught up? Cool. Instead of writing a proper review (yes, the title is a lie) I’ll just list random stuff I thought of, things I liked, things that bothered me. Starting with my wishlist at the end of the first season.

I’d like to see Inaho thaw a bit. But just a bit. It’s okay for him to be a stoic character.

They got this perfectly right. He softened up just a little bit, smiling a little more often and showing pain and disappointment at times. His sweeter attitude towards Yuki-nee was particularly touching. I think they’ll be happy together at the end.

I’d like to see the other characters take a more active role in battle. Too many red shirts die every battle to build up the enemy pilot so Inaho can crush him.

They did well with this too. Inaho is still the mech-crusher of choice, but other characters get some important kills as well. The Deucalion makes some great saves, especially. Fewer no-name pilots are killed off as well.

I’d like to see the enemies put up more of a fight. Things are too easy now.

A mostly forlorn wish, but there was one battle where even the mighty Inaho had to retreat so that was good to see. Of course he was only retreating so he could crush them better later on.

I’d like to see cooler mechs. Most of the machines so far are rather dumb-looking.

Inaho’s orange unit got a name (Sleipnir) and some cool upgrades in time for the final battle. Everyone else looked dumb until the end. Not that most mechs stick around long enough for you to admire their CG glory.

I’d like a resolution to Lt. Marito’s PTSD once and for all. It’s gotten old now, either get over yourself or stop wasting screen time.

He got over himself and became a helpful member of the crew. As for “how” he got over it, a Wizard Did It. No thanks to his useless doctor who actually gives whiskey to a recovering alcoholic though.

Thoughts about Slaine Troyard
  • Slaine was the cause of his own problems. First he killed Saazbaum off too quickly. He became a count too quickly without any plan. This forced him to spend time crushing the opposition and consolidating his power base when he should have been following up on his attack on Trident base. He should have waited and earned more fear and respect from the other Martians before taking Saazbaum out.
  • Second, he gave the princesses too much freedom. He was to all intents and purposes an usurper of power and he should have acted like it. Set guards on Lemrina at all times, keep Eddelrittuo and Asseylum under lock and key. Have spies everywhere who tell you everything everyone says in every corner of the base. Haven’t you read Dune?
  • He wasn’t ruthless enough. He should have made absolutely sure Inaho was dead in season one. He should have killed Asseylum the minute she recovered her memories. Instead of sending Stygis ships after her when she escaped, he should have shot her down himself. In fact he should have set a bomb on Klancain’s ship as insurance against such an escape. Read Dune, dude, they’ll show you how it’s done.
  • Basically he acted on emotion all the time but lacked the guts and conviction to follow through when it really mattered. And he lacked foresight and the ability to make contingency plans. He would have been better off staying as Cruhteo’s lapdog or Saazbaum’s hired gun for the whole show.
Thoughts about Aldnoah Zero’s ending
  • Slaine spending the rest of his life in jail is exactly what he deserves. War criminals have been hanged for less. It’s just too bad that the rest of the Martian warmongers and conspirators got away with it. Still I hope they can release him into exile at age 70 or something.
  • Asseylum marrying a third party and not Inaho or Slaine was perfect. It always bothers me when I read manga about nobility or royalty where the prince/princess marries a no-name commoner and no one objects. As long as Vers remains a feudal society, the Empress will marry for political reasons first and love second. Something could have been worked out if there was a King of the Earth or President of the World Federation but Slaine and Inaho are common soldiers. The ending is fine.
  • At the same time I’m happy Inaho got to confess his feelings to Asseylum and vice-versa. Even though a robot eye did it on his behalf. It’s a fond memory for them and they can both move on now.
  • Inaho looks pretty cool with that eyepatch. I hope he’ll be happy with Yuki-nee. I can’t support either Inko (too annoying) or Rayet (too angry and hypocritical).
  • I thought for sure either Harklight or Baohcruz would betray Slaine but they were loyal to the end. Huh. Sorry guys, I’m so suspicious these days. Their deaths were pointless though.
Other random thoughts
  • Instead of Stygis mechs, the Vers empire should have mass-produced the self-replicating Kataphrakt that one Count owned. The only way to defeat one is to kill all the copies at once, which would be completely impossible in space or by anybody not named Inaho.
  • The characters of Counts Mazuurk and Klancain should have been merged into one. Mazuurk ended up playing only a minor role in the big conflict. And Klancain just swooped out of nowhere and carried off the girl and the glory. Fans would have howled much less if he had been introduced much earlier.
  • Poor Okisuke, almost nobody remembered him after episode 3. Thank you Calm for giving him a quick shoutout before the end.
  • How come Slaine was allowed to keep the Tharsis after Cruhteo passed? I assumed he left no heirs but it turns out he had several sons. No one asked any questions for 19 months?
  • Tharsis looked cool but it was useless after all. All it had was the prediction gear, the limitations of which were shown pretty early. The final battle was totally anti-climatic.
  • Not only anti-climatic but also unnecessary. It’s obvious the writers forced Slaine to go out there against his will so he could have an obligatory final showdown with Inaho. The outcome was never in doubt.
  • In the end nothing came of any of the other teased relationships like Yuki x Marito and Magbaredge x Marito. Eh, guess nobody cares.
  • Dr. Troyard’s research into Aldnoah and why he’s so highly respected among the Martians is never fully explained. I thought there would be some secret in Slaine’s locket but it was a red herring in the end.
  • The UFE should have asked Inaho to activate Saazbaum and Cruhteo’s Landing Castles. Even one of these would have been an invaluable source of intel and firepower. And it would be interesting to see the Martians hoist by their own petard.
What I liked about Aldnoah Zero
  • The battles. Yes Inaho stomps everyone, but it’s interesting to see how. He uses some very intelligent strategies sometimes.
  • Almost no fanservice even though they had plenty of chances to do so.
  • The body count is high but there’s little gore. It’s a fairly family-friendly show. Though the scene at the end of episode 12 is somewhat disturbing.
  • Asseylum finally realizes her helplessness and has the wisdom to ally with someone who can do something about it. Some might criticize her for it but she’s the one who saves the day in the end. Self-awareness is a good thing.
  • The second season fixes a lot of the problems of the first, as listed above.
  • The character designs are nice.
  • The wailings of disappointed Inaho x Asseylum and Slaine x Asseylum fans are sweet music to my ears.
What I didn’t like about Aldnoah Zero
  • The few unanswered questions like the true nature of Dr. Troyard’s research.
  • Slaine’s personality and motivations were all over the place. He was not convincing either as a good guy or a bad guy.
  • Inaho never admits his hypocrisy in his dealings with Slaine versus Rayet/Mazuurk. He could have spared the world a lot of trouble by dealing fairly with Slaine back in episode 7.
  • The monster-of-the-week format was good in season 1 but time-wasting in the second half.
  • The mechs and CG sequences were disappointing. Aldnoah Zero can never be a Gundam killer without cool mechs.
  • The Earth Forces never actually won the war. They got lucky with Asseylum being the peaceable type – which they almost scuppered by killing her themselves.
  • I didn’t like Inaho’s mechanical eye. I liked it better when Inaho was being cool and broken all by himself.
Final comments

I enjoyed the show a lot. I marathoned the first season in a day and watched the second very quickly, which is something I don’t often do these days. I might actually buy Aldnoah Zero on DVD or Blu-Ray soon. Just as soon as Aniplex has a sale, because their prices are too outrageous. I thought of it as Code Geass meets Gundam at the first, but it managed to carve out a niche for itself by the end.

The main characters are a bit of a problem – Inaho is too lifeless at first, Slaine is a mess from start to finish and Asseylum takes forever to get serious – but they all grow up in the end. Best of all, it’s all wrapped up in 24 episodes with no “Please buy the light novels” nonsense. If you like mecha/super robot shows and overpowered protagonists, definitely give Aldnoah Zero a try.

Finished Gamers! The second half sucked

This is why I try to finish a whole season before commenting. The first half of a show might be promising, but that doesn’t mean the whole thing won’t fall apart once they’ve successfully reeled in the viewers. Gamers! didn’t exactly fall apart, but it lost direction and humor and just meandered around for the last few episodes. The last good episode was episode 8, everything after that was all downhill.

To its credit stuff did happen in Gamers! The main character, despite his wishy-washy initial appearance, is able to convey his feelings to those who matter to him and they’re able to respond the same way. Unlike most “everyday-protagonist with a harem of ladies who like him” shows, concrete progress is made in key relationships and that progress actually sticks and doesn’t revert at the end of the episode/show. It’s very satisfying in that sense.

The problem is, that satisfaction happens about 60% of the way through the show. After that the writers couldn’t figure out how to keep the show entertaining. It’s a show built around wacky misunderstandings but when those misunderstandings are cleared up, what’s a writer to do? Why, make more misunderstandings, no matter how far-fetched or contrived! And when those run out? Do nothing! The last three episodes were particularly meaningless. I am told episode 11 is almost entirely filler, which really shouldn’t happen in a 12-episode show based on a light novel.

Summary of the good points and bad points of Gamers!

Good

  • The bait-and-switch premise grabs your interest. I thought it would be about a gaming club but…
  • The first half is quite unpredictable. The development at the end of episode 6 was especially surprising.
  • The misunderstandings are entertaining at first. Some of the internal monologues and the way characters interpret innocent comments in the craziest of ways are pretty funny.
  • The many video game references are a cool bonus if you are into video games. But it’s not so video game heavy that non-gamers can’t understand it.

Bad

  • The characters go up and down in likeability and may annoy you in one episode and delight you the next.
  • A new character was introduced around episode 8 just keep keep the misunderstandings going. She serves no purpose otherwise and is actively annoying.
  • Uehara is a jerk.
  • Chiaki was cuter with the seaweed hair.
  • Sometimes the characters act hypocritically. E.g. character A hangs out with character B and his girlfriend even though she mistakenly thinks B has the hots for her. Or character B is all buddy-buddy with character C even though he’s planning to ruin her relationship and hook her boyfriend up with character A.
  • Even though the show is called Gamers! the bulk of the last episode is devoted to having the only non-gamer character (Aguri) bash video games for 20 minutes straight. Why would you go on a Gamers’ Meetup trip if you think they’re such a waste of time? And why would you keep harping on it? We call that trolling in real life, miss. All the goodwill I had built up for her went out the window.
  • The show avoided fanservice for 11 episodes then let loose in the last episode. What for??? Anyone who came to Gamers! for the fanservice must have left by then.
  • You can quit after episode 8 and be perfectly fine. In fact you should quit after episode 8.
  • Some threads are left hanging at the end. Like the implications of Uehara’s “I choose you!” statement. And the lie between Chiaki, Konoha and Amano. I got flack for calling the show an advert for the light novel, but the results speak for themselves.

Do I recommend it?

Eh. Sure. It’s one of the more rewarding romance shows I’ve seen in a while. By which I mean the main romance actually goes somewhere, and quickly too. Those who followed Hayate no Gotoku for years only to get Butler End know my pain. The show peaks too early and loses focus for the last few episodes, but if you watch it in one go instead of weekly you won’t mind too much. It’s worth a watch if you have time to kill and don’t mind high-school romance hijinks and people who just can’t communicate.

 

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