October 2011 Anime Season – Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai Episode 4

I think all around the world, heads exploded over this episode. In a good way.

Maria the 10-year old appears, apparently coerced by Yozora to give her control of the room. Yukimura, the stalker of Kodaka seen in Episode 2, is a reverse trap that wishes to be just like Kodaka – an opportunity too good for Yozora to ignore. Rika is a scientific genius permanently in heat that is smitten with Kodaka. Needless to say, a ‘harem’ of sorts is forming. Yozora and Sena don’t like it one bit, but both girls end up joining the club. And all the while, Kodaka’s relationship with other students is going downhill.

After reflecting for a bit – this is actually one clever episode. Sure, you have three new girls introduced into the mix, now making six girls all up when you include Kobato during Kodaka’s time at home. But despite the fact this episode spends a fair amount of time introducing and developing those new girls, this episode actually belongs to Yozora. Let’s examine what happens:

1. Maria is sleeping in the classroom. Yozora details – with a weird pleasure in her tone – how she was able to coerce Maria into giving her the room. After Maria tries to go back on the deal, Yozora engages in clever reverse-psychology to talk Maria back into to deal. Yozora steals the moment.

2. Yukimura is revealed as Kodaka’s stalker but has good intentions overall since she idolises Kodaka – in a rather twisted way…Yozora can’t pass up the opportunity to ‘educate’ Yukimura on how to fulfill her role of becoming like Kodaka and ends up making fun of the situation at Kodaka’s expense. Again, another character introduction ends up demonstrating more qualities of Yozora.

3. Kobato is barely in the episode for 30 seconds. Kodaka ignores her. Kobato fans get their moment for the week but she matters little in the overall mix – almost as if to prove it’s steering itself away from Ore no Imouto. Yozora is still the feature thus far this episode.

4. Rika’s introduction and display of her overly sexual nature ends up turning into a moment where Yozora reveals her jealousy and indirectly shows she cares about Kodaka because of the nature of the flashback material in Episode 3. Again, several minutes of another character’s introduction is used to fuel a Yozora moment to steal the show.

Thus this is an episode we learn more about Yozora – and her true nature. Yozora is a bully – something she denies but it’s there for everyone to see. Yozora coerces Maria, pokes fun at Sena, jokes continually at Kodaka, uses Yukimura for her own amusement at Kodaka’s expense yet again. Yozora loves to dictate how people behave around her and getting a kick out of the results. Yozora is definitely a bully. So it begs the question – why has Yozora set up this club to make friends when she’s really trying to control everyone? Does Yozora have a twisted concept of friendship due to past events? She clearly had a good heart when she was young. What has caused Yozora to go sour and be anything but the friend she was to Kodaka in their youth? Yozora clearly cares about Kodaka, but if she’s got any delusions of being with him or being proper friends with the others in the club, she’s got to stop hiding behind her shell and be real. Ironic that the person who created the club is the one person who is failing to achieve the overall objective of the club – to make friends. Episode 3 set the foundations for friendship between Sena and Kodaka. You could argue some form of a basis of friendship also exists towards Kodaka for Yukimura and Rika, since they’re at least trying. Yozora is way behind everyone in this regard and her jealousy is blatantly obvious. So it really begs the question – what caused Yozora to become so mean and kill her heart?

The concern for a lot of people was the introduction of these new characters in Episode 4 would detract from the main trio too much. Amazingly…that didn’t happen! Maria’s presence was brief, served as material for the relevant fan group and drifted out after serving her purpose. Yuki Igucha voices Maria with a childish, upstart nature but not an irritating one – which is somewhat admirable. Nozomi Yamamoto’s sedate voicing of Yukimura is a complete opposite of her voicing of Rie from UN-GO and shows some depth for a newcomer. Yukimura reminds me of Hideyoshi from Baka to Test considerably, but Yukimura is more amusing in my opinion. Misato Fukuen utterly revels in voicing Rika, portraying her hot-blooded nature and the maniacal narration of the ‘dirty manga’ damn well. Honestly, ‘mecha porn’ – that is gold! They all get their moments and then some – they were worth remembering. Yet the episode goes to Yozora and some well-executed development. And you just wonder how it is one of the most outrageous, simple shows of the season is slaying most of the competition when it comes to character development? Good writing and pacing I guess. It’s easy for secondary characters to steal the show sometimes. AIC had it happen in Ore no Imouto and they seem to have learnt their lesson. Let’s hope they don’t let it happen again and can give the three main characters continual development as they have done thus far. What is clear is that despite Yozora’s mean exterior, she does value friendship deep down – but never shows it. Hopefully we find out why.

Yet again, Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai avoids going down the spiral and stays on track. Thumbs up yet again for this week. One wonders what it will pull off next. Either way, I can’t wait!

October 2011 Anime Season – Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai Episode 3

This certainly is one very…daring episode…

Sena is still in gaming mode, but for some reason she’s playing a H-game in the clubroom. Yozora can’t resist the opportunity to torment Sena and makes Sena read the dialogue of a ‘scene’ out loud. Sena stumbles through it then gives up and flees. Upon returning home, we get to see Kodaka’s younger sister, Kobato, who dresses up loli-goth style to mirror a character from ‘Full Metal Necromancer’. The next day, Sena makes the comment that she can’t swim. It ends up leading to a trip to a swiming centre for Sena and Kodaka so she learns to swim – so it’s the first time we get two see more than one member of the club outside of a school setting together. It goes well for Sena and there’s service in plentiful supply in this part of the episode – but nothing absurd. The conversation between the two over lunch reveals some interesting things – Kodaka’s dad and Sena’s dad were friends for a long time. Sena is actually fond of being called ‘Meat’ since it’s her first nickname.  While Kodaka uses the bathroom, Sena gets surrounded by a bunch of guys and her mouth further inflames a bad situation. Kodaka uses his ‘image’ to scare the guys away. Sena replies with her usual manner – and Kodaka doesn’t let her get off lightly. The severity of Kodaka’s words gets through to Sena and she temporarily shows a moment of indirect gratitude before going back to normal. But the effect lingers – Sena is finally able to see Kodaka as a person she values and not just another guy. Sena’s manner in the aftermath is smoother and grateful. There’s a service moment with Kobato shortly afterwards that’s appropriately censored (thank flock) and the scene quickly switches to a flashback. It is revealed Kodaka once had a dear friend in his childhood – and it’s Yozora…The preview to the next episode indicates the reverse trap and mini-nun characters will appear in Episode 4.

So…this was definitely a more loaded episode. The ecchi factor was ramped up for sure this episode and I think it will remain to be on a similar level of stimulation from now on. Still, no character got degraded. Sena’s swimsuit was revealing, but in all honesty, clothing that revealing at swimming centres, the beach and general garb during summer is quite revealing anyway. Sena’s attire isn’t cheap or demeaning. I actually found the scene to be fairly well animated. Rather than relying on the cliche effect of breast bouncing or butt-flexing, Sena’s movements weren’t exaggerated – she is naturally a looker. It also helps that Kodaka didn’t act like a lecher plus he avoided overreacting like a lot of generic males in the genre. And when he needed to be the man but not a prick when Sena needed bailing out, he pulled it off. The scene with Kobato was clearly to appeal to those who like their lolis (I sure don’t…) but it wasn’t creepy or anything and thankfully didn’t last long. Although it must be said Kana Hanazawa is a good choice to voice Kobato – she sounds naturally suited to the role and sells it well. Plus the heterochromia is a nice feature. As for game references, I hope they don’t pop up every episode or the Sena-Kirino similarity will be overemphasised and hurt Sena’s popularity.

About Sena – she definitely got some significant character development this episode. It is clear that while she acts superior generally, Sena does yield to Yozora rather easily and is provoked into a reaction soon after. Yet with Kodaka, we get to see the other side of her. The Sena that genuinely wants to have a good time, be happy and hang out with friends. The day out with Kodaka serves as a lesson to Sena that she can see males as potential friends/actual people rather than just typical guys who lust after her. Kodaka’s rebuke also serves to show he isn’t the typical guy or harem guy. He isn’t going to be their beat-up toy or plaything. He will demand their respect and make that clear. It evokes an interesting change in Sena’s persona when someone not submitting to her normal behaviour makes her realise it is that behaviour that has created the issues that prevented her from making friends. Sena now realises Kodaka does genuinely care about her – and Sena finally lowers her boundaries, daring to be nice to Kodaka in return. As hoped, Kodaka is not just excess baggage – he is an active participant and important to the mix. Now the dynamic is not just between Yozora and Sena. There is now a dynamic between Kodaka and both females. And in the case of Sena and Kodaka, it is now at a state one can call friendship as Sena now has openly acknowledged the fact she does want to spend time with Kodaka on a regular basis. This episode sets Sena apart from Kirino big time – for which I am grateful. Sena is able to communicate without being violent or majorly condescending – something Kirino could never quite do.

The flashback scene was very effective and allows Yozora to have her moment this episode despite getting little airtime during it. Yozora certinaly seems like the childhood friend from Kodaka’s earlier years. Okay, this plot point is fairly cliche, but the scene had impact because of the timing, execution and good source material to back it up. This was not your generic revelation scene. It allowed the viewer to feel for Yozora but realise her stubborn nature is a major hurdle and going to hinder her from being able to move forward. Five seconds was all Yozora needed to be able to match the impact Sena had over ten minutes. This scene sets up a key difference between Yozora and Sena. Yozora is unable to admit her feelings when it comes to the crunch – or at least nowhere near as easily as Sena can. The potential for romantic possibilities between Kodaka and either girl have been set up – and with that comes a lot of potential tension between the trio. Still, at this point, there are plenty of reasons to like both girls, which is a good thing.

Again, this show continues to do what it does well – provide some light, silly fun with a bit of steam. And the arrival of the reverse trap and the nun are bound to kick things up a few more notches! For being nothing out of the ordinary, it’s excelling at character development and key moments a rightside better than most series this year.

October 2011 Anime Season – Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai Episode 2

This series just continues to make me laugh in a way I’ve wanted to all year. It’s not pretending to be spectacular. It merely promises entertainment that is neither highbrow nor lowbrow.

The trio of Yozora, Sena and Kodaka are intent on determining how to find friendship. Yozora makes the suggestion of games as a method to strengthen friendship. Teaming up on their PlayingStates (Got to love those copyright-altering names!), the trio get into an RPG game. But the effects are not as intended – or perhaps they actually were! Yozora and Sena merely use this as a medium to beat each other up with amusing results. Their dislike of each other is more intent than ever, particularly with Yozora calling Sena ‘Meat’ on a regular basis while Sena fires back with ‘dumb witch’. After seeing the purpose of this exercise fail, Sena suggests playing a dating-sim. (I’m serious – it happens!) Perhaps the most amusing aspect is not that Yozora and Sena both see this as a way to learn how to makes friends with females – but that it actually causes the two to get along for a while! Their reactions to characters within the game and related events are virtually identical, although it could be argued Sena is more emotionally invested in it. Episode ends with Sena revelling in her ‘success’ and getting Kodaka to do his own playthrough.

Again, nothing spectacular, nothing truly original and definitely no shirking off the link to Ore no Imouto. But honestly, SO WHAT?! Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai is a rightside better than that ever was! Firstly, the character dynamic is better. Kirino’s scenario was just too comfortable and she was made overly bitchy while Kuroneko was rather sedate and ‘safe’, but most of all, the concept these two got along overall didn’t really seem believable. In the end, Ore no Imouto geared itself to satisfy Kirino fans short term then provide the link for the Kuroneko-oriented series. I.e. It set the fandoms to war against each other and hurt the title – it was more a marketing tool than anything.

In the case of Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai, that doesn’t seem to be happening. Yozora and Sena may bicker – as all people do at times – but there are core issues that they agree upon, plus they share similar distrusts within people in general, which become apparent when they play the dating-sim. They both instantly distrust the overly nice girl and make the same slanders. They both like the intelligent girl and value intelligence as a quality more than anything. Both of them are fairly resistant to budge when presented the idea it could be them that are somewhat responsible for their failures to not make friends. The other key appeal is that it is actually quite fun to see Yozora and Sena argue. Yozora’s ‘Meat’ puns are genuinely funny and Sena’s facial expressions/barbs at Yozora/Kodaka are very effective dialogue. It’s not malicious – they’re natural human emotions that aren’t unnecessarily amplified to the point the two become unlikeable. The banter is great for the chemistry between Yozora and Sena. Thus far, I still have a fair number of reasons to like both, which is something that could rarely be said for the Ore no Imouto duo. Generally, people could usually only like Kuroneko or Kirino. This time, liking both Yozora and Sena is very plausible.

That said, there are noticeable differences between Yozora and Sena, though. Sena is more emotional while Yozora is generally somewhat cold. Sena seems to find the concept of having a male friend inconceivable yet Yozora doesn’t seem to have such an issue. Sena’s physical features are more extreme while Yozora’s aren’t and go for the zettai ryouki appeal. They’re distinct characters. They have valid reasons to dislike each other on some levels. But ultimately, it is rather conceivable they will get along in the long run.

There are several levels of appeal for me within this show. The art is pleasing – it’s not an overly-exaggerated moe style giving me diabetes. The animation actually looks like some effort has been put into it. During the battle scenes in the RPG section of the episode, weapon movements and effects were fairly smooth and somewhat detailed. Not on a Last Exile/Guilty Crown level, but the effort was noticeable. Costume/uniform designs were good. The reversal of clothes/roles during the dating sim was a very clever scene. The dialogue is very loaded and is entertaining throughout. There are fanservice moments but nothing over the top. There’s definitely an ecchi element to this show but it’s not overly exaggerated. It’s been dealt out in amounts that haven’t cheapened Yozora or Sena thus far. I hope that continues to be the case. Whether the inevitably increasing character cast changes that is another issue. Kodaka got little focus in Episode 2, but with the inevitable arrival of his little sister, the reverse trap girl that likes him and the science girl that tries to jump him – Kodaka’s airtime will increase soon. I’d like to find out more about him and see him progress.

All in all, this series is the light-hearted entertainment with a bit of steam I’d been hoping all year. This won’t be for everyone and it’s nothing that new. What is giving Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai its edge is a more balanced character cast, sharp dialogue and proper execution. I will never have high hopes for it but reasonable ones. If it continues to entertain with a bit of cheek, a bit of tongue-in-cheek, a bit of flesh and a bit of heart – I’ll gladly give it my time but remember that there are better shows out there this season.