Saikano Episode 01

Saikano

"We Fall in Love"

The best and most accurate way to describe the world of Saikano is that it is one in which everyone is constantly blushing.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I should tell you that I actually saw the first seven or eight episodes of Saikano in its Japanese release, so my reviews may be somewhat colored by that fact. (If it makes you feel better, I don't remember all that much about it, other than I liked it.)

Back to the review. While all the characters do stand around blushing all the time (or maybe it's just hot, or some weird fashion), the show actually takes place in a future or near-future Japan (reference to an F-15 makes me think near-future).

The premise of this show is a story about first love between a boy and a girl, where the girl ends up being transformed into a superweapon to defend Japan from its attackers.

Gotta love anime, huh?

So you get many of the themes that are common in this sort of show, thrown in with a lot of shocking war moments. These crazy events tear Shuuji and Chise in two different directions over the course of the show, and provide most of the tension (after all, who just wants a simple love story these days).

One of the things that really impressed me about Saikano is Gonzo's animation. They did a really good job of capturing emotion through character's movements. One really good example is the scene in the middle where Chise is crying, and using her sleeves to wipe her tears away.

As a jumping on point to this series, this probably isn't the strongest episode. If you're interested in an emotional rollercoaster ride of a story, I can tell you now (with my foreknowledge) that you should watch this series, it gets better real soon. Saikano would probably have been better served with a quicker opening, as the big emotional punch of this episode just doesn't serve up all that much drama (most people watching the show already know that Chise is a weapon of the military).

The animation is extremely good, featuring all of Gonzo's normal high production values, though the music is a little nondescript (at least in the first episode). It does have one very good tune, though, and that turned out to be one of my most vibrant memories from my first viewing of the show.

To sum up, if you want to watch a show that will absolutely punch you in the gut with its emotional twists and turns, you should watch this despite the somewhat average first episode.

Rating: B-

Posted by Kei at 10:51 PM | Comments (3)

Saikano Episode 02

Saikano

"I'm Growing"

I don't know if it was really necessary to make Chise quite so stupid. I mean, she is an idiot. And on top of that, she can't walk up a hill without almost passing out. If that's the Japanese idea of a superweapon, I guess that means the world is safe.

It's not really that just Chise is stupid though. For example, every character we ever see seems really untraumatized by the fact up to 100,000 people could be dead after the first bombing. Seeing their friend die doesn't stop them from making stupid comments about how cool the jet fighters look.

Now stop blushing. No, I mean it. Please!

I do think it's kind of interesting that the audience is expected to just swallow the concept of the show (Japan being invaded, innocents being slaughtered, and the above heroine as their only hope), without receiving any details, justification, etc. Though, when you think about it, it's probably for the better. I can't see any explanation that would make me feel better about it.

This episode was a little better than the last one, but still not great. The emotional moments are sort of missing something. Surprise and shock, for one thing. If it weren't for the fact I know this show gets better, I'd have a hard time recommending it.

Rating: B-

Posted by Kei at 01:04 AM | Comments (1)

Saikano Episode 03

Saikano

"Together, Alone"

I think this show could be at least eleven or thirteen times better if Chise's character wasn't so unsympathetic and wasn't so pathetic. It makes you wonder about Shuji, who basically has a girlfriend that he treats like a pet dog or something. (That's all the way down to the way he gives her food, pats her on the head, calls her "dummy", etc.)

I also find it odd that Shuji can't figure out what Chise is doing when she stands him up. I figure an invasion of Japan would be pretty newsworthy, and the destruction of a bunch of attacking forces in Osaka just might be on his radar.

Just as the story was beginning to annoy me, though, the hand of fate interjects! Enter Shuji's old flame! With Shuji already having problems figuring out his feelings for Chise, Fuyumi-sempai (his old middle school teacher, or something) only serves to mess him up more. But that's what I call entertainment!

Rating: B+

Posted by Kei at 09:54 PM | Comments (0)

Saikano Episode 04

Saikano

"Fuyumi"

For an episode called "Fuyumi", she sure doesn't show up, or play a very big part in it. Which is too bad, because I really hope her story isn't over, as I like the wrinkle messing around with Shuji's emotions presents.

One thing that Saikano does really well is tell a lot of story and deliver a lot of exposition in very short amounts of time. Through offhand comments and careful delivery of information, one or two lines can fill in a lot of stuff about the characters, what's going on and more.

One of the things that I don't like about Saikano is Chise's character, as I've mentioned before. She seems like she's an eight year old or something (both in appearance and in attitude). In this episode, she spouts off about how she'd like to try and protect everyone in the world if she could, of course completely missing the fact that the people she's killing are part of the world. She doesn't even come to that particular realization, though she does think she's not able to protect anyone, being a weapon. So, somehow she came to the right conclusion, just by the wrong reasoning. I would say her character design is pretty uninspired, also. And unappealing, unless you're into that sort of thing (which you shouldn't rush to admit). Then again, Fuyumi, who's probably supposed to be around 30, looks about 16, so whatever.

This was kind of a slow episode, rehashing a lot of what's already been gone over. How Shuji and Chise are trying to escape the military, but can't, and anyways, Chise knows she can't hide, because if she does, many people will die. Oh yeah, and Chise's friend probably has some secret love for Shuji, which would explain (stereotypically) why she treats him so poorly.

A lot of what happens is genuinely emotional, though I can't really take anything that Chise feels seriously, since she's such a ridiculous character (what with the huge mechanical wings and all). The other characters all work pretty well, though.

Oh, and I have to also mention that this war really could use some explanation. Sure it's not the focal point of the story, but when your setting is so insane (Japan is getting wiped off the face of the earth, why doesn't anyone care?), you should have to explain yourself, or pick a more generic story.

Rating: C+

Posted by Kei at 12:02 AM | Comments (0)

Saikano Episode 05

Saikano

"Liar"

I think this is the episode where Saikano begins to show its true colors with the first of many gut wrenching, extremely unhappy scenes. In retrospect, they're not that bad, but they help set up the tone of this show, which is unrepentantly depressing and sad.

As Chise becomes more and more the ultimate weapon the military has made her into, it now manifests itself in her personality, at times seeming like she's taken over by the weapon. Apparently, when she gets sad or angry, it can trigger her ultimate weapon powers (as she doesn't have full control over them), which leads to incredible amounts of destruction. After seeing a small taste of this, Shuji becomes scared of her, stricken between his fear and his need to protect his girlfriend. Meanwhile, he continues his affair with Fuyumi, which only further strains his relationship with Chise.

Generally, the scenes involving Chise and Shuji are depressing enough, but when we see soldiers fighting and dying, it's another level, as soldiers die because Chise's relationship is not going well, and she wants to spend more time with Shuji, not being the ultimate weapon.

This show has a different-sounding voice cast. Shuji has a fairly unique voice, while Chise has a standarish, squealy female voice. The rest of the characters fill in with voices that don't sound like quite what you expect from an anime series, but it all works (though Akemi sounds a little weird to my ear). I don't think there's any show that sounds quite like Saikano.

Speaking of sound, Saikano also features a really good soundtrack that mixes catchy, moody classical music with guitar riffs of the main themes, and meshes extremely well with the slow, melancholy pace of the show.

Rating: B+

Posted by Kei at 02:59 AM | Comments (0)

Saikano Episode 06

Saikano

"Classmates"

The emotional roller coaster rolls right into the halfway point of the show, throwing a few more curveballs into Shuji and Chise's relationship by way of Shuji's relationship with Fuyumi.

One of the (I suspect) really depressing storylines of this show has to be between Shuji's friend and Akemi. I suspect that Akemi is actually in love with Shuji (falling squarely into your normal anime stereotype), but then after getting that thrown in her face, decided to go out with Shuji's friend. Of course, that's all the more depressing because it's the last bit of convincing he needs to enlist, willing to die to protect her.

Ultimately, Saikano is a breath of fresh air. It's a romantic drama with a decidedly different (and extremely serious) twist, despite the fact it features heavy sci-fi, and a wartime setting. Considering how done to death most romantic anime (especially the comedies) are, this is a really good change of pace.

Rating: B+

Posted by Kei at 02:21 AM | Comments (1)

Saikano Episode 07

Saikano

"What I Want to Protect"

The various cast members of Saikano all get a chance to make some pointed observations during the course of another emotionally trying episode. I think it's interesting that this show doesn't really focus on adult opinions at all (except for brief encounters with soldiers), but instead focuses completely how high school aged kids see and react to the war in their own way.

One of the larger plot threads that seems to run through this episode is how relationships are moved on from, or how people react to their ending. Shuji and Chise struggle with trying to remain distant from each other, despite the fact that both are still very much in love (and failing, more or less), while Akemi wonders if their apparent breakup would make it okay for her to pursue Shuji, whom she's secretly been in love with all this time. The girlfriend of the boy who was killed earlier on (I forget his name), has moved on from his death (and has a great line about love during wartime), but not entirely, as she's still wearing his pendant around her neck. Then there's Atsushi, who has contented himself to fighting for Akemi, as she won't return his love for her. Despite the fact that he has placed himself in an absolutely awful situation, he seems satisfied.

The other thing of interest is the increasing presence of Chise's "other side". Her ultimate weapon alter ego comes through more often, talking dispassionately about the troops she has killed and the destruction she's wrought, while also driving the normal Chise to seek more power. On top of that, her other side absolutely frightens Shuji (no surprise there), which pains her greatly, and probably is pushing her more down turning into a more powerful and efficient weapon. It's almost like she's given chances to take control of her humanity, but the fact is that she's gone too far to turn back.

Rating: A-

Posted by Kei at 12:26 AM | Comments (0)

Saikano Episode 08

Saikano

"Everyone's Changing"

Why is it that all the female characters that appear to have an interest in Shuji have short, boyish hair? Not only is it unappealing (at least to me), it makes them hard to tell apart.

Chise is involved in some seriously twisted moments in this episode of Saikano (big surprise there). Her transition from weapon-Chise to normal-Chise is hardly noticable, other than the spookiness of weapon-Chise.

This episode involves in how things are changing, most visibly in Chise, where she's moved on, at least for the moment, from her awkward relationship with Shuji, finding some solace in Tetsu. Putting aside the wrongness of this pairing, it seems like Tetsu is able to do everything that Shuji can't. Even though he's probably completely frightened by Chise at times, he can cover it up, which Shuji was never good at.

Chise needs, more than anything, human relationships to help her keep her humanity. She's got Tetsu now, but how long will that last?

Rating: B+

Posted by Kei at 11:19 PM | Comments (0)

Saikano Episode 09

Saikano

"Akemi"

In the spirit of full disclosure, I'll admit that the first time I watched Saikano, this episode was the last one I watched. It wasn't that the show ceased to be entertaining, or something so godawful happened in this episode that I didn't want to watch anymore.

No, this episode was just too much for me.

This episode is probably the most depressing twenty-five minutes of animation created (with the exception of Grave of the Fireflies, which is a whole different type of downer), and I was in permanent cringe mode throughout (even this being my second time through).

When I started rewatching Saikano, I was both looking forward to and dreading this episode. I thought that maybe my memory of it had colored it, making me remember it as being more painful than it actually was, but now having seen it again, I don't think I exaggerated it much at all. In fact, I remember most of the details of it, which is a testament to the power (scarring!) of this part of the story.

I'll be breaking new ground after this one, but once again, I have that feeling that I don't really need to go on from here.

Rating: A+

Posted by Kei at 01:28 AM | Comments (6)

Saikano Episode 10

Saikano

"And Then..."

I was extremely grateful for the ending of this episode. After the last two (including this one), any stretch of the show where something morbidly depressing doesn't happen is a welcome change of pace. It's pretty amazing how wide a range of depression and gut-wrenching situations get packed into each episode of Saikano. Visually and emotionally, this show doesn't let up with its punches once it starts.

I was hoping that the events of the last episode were wrapped up and wouldn't need to be revisited, but it turns out I was wrong, as this episode is completely devoted to the fallout of what happened before, and how other characters deal and move on.

Spoilers follow!

My favorite moment from this episode (and by favorite, I mean most disturbing) is when Chise comes in on Tetsu in his dying moments. Tetsu cries and begs for Fuyumi, which makes another one of Chise's love interests (if you could call them that, Chise is just desperate for any type of affection) where Fuyumi loomed over the relationship. First with Shuji cheating on her, and now with Tetsu in his dying moments.

Chise's future also looks grimmer by the moment, though it's not like this is a big secret. The question is more of "how long" than anything else. It's amazing how this underlying tragedy is overshadowed by the other more immediate tragedies that seem to pop up everywhere.

Rating: A

Posted by Kei at 01:21 PM | Comments (0)