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A die hard otaku friend from Germany was full of praise about a certain shoujo anime, which was odd considering the guy loved blood and gore on his platter. So I was left with two options; either my friend has gone mad, or the anime is exceptional. But before passing a verdict, here's a little plot overview.

Born into a musical family, Shinichi Chiaki is a talented pianist with a desire to become a conductor, and happens to be the top student of his music school in Japan. But due to his fear of airplanes and the sea, this arrogant perfectionist is now 'trapped' in Japan, unable to pursue his musical dreams abroad. 'Musician extraordinaire' had almost taken it for granted that his entire career was going down the drain. But one fine evening he discovers a girl playing the piano with natural finesse - and that too in a junk-cluttered apartment (how romantic). The girl Nodame is the polar opposite of Chiaki - impulsive, candid and fickle in her enthusiasm. Chiaki wonders, what will this uncanny encounter imply - a musical mismatch? Or perfect harmony?

The artwork in Nodame very refreshing: simple, uncluttered and relatable characters. The characters are also eased into the show, steady and relatively subtle. It's really the interactions between them characters that drive the story; hence everyone is important in Nodame's world.

Since the show revolves around music, it's no surprise that it contains a lot of auditory treats. Fans of classical music are definitely going to love this, with the music of Rachmaninov, Liszt, Brahms, Gershwin, Beethoven and Chopin. Musical sequences are the dramatic high points of the story, complete with all the details about what the students went through to prepare for them, and what they mean to each individual.

Perhaps the greatest strength of the anime is Nodame herself. She is hyperactive, unkempt and just plain dumb at first glance, but she grows on you. A lot.

Nodame Cantabile walks the line between refreshingly simple and boring; it could fall to either side, depending on how severe your personal case of ADD is. Don't look here for fast-paced action or heart-wrenching drama, but if interesting characters and a complex, realistic story are what drives your interest, then you can't help falling in love with the quirky cast of this series. And yes, there are three seasons - you'll love them all the same.





 
 
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At first glance, the plot of Shakugan no Shana appears inspired, but when stripped down, it essentially becomes a high school drama series with bits of action and horror thrown in to attract attention. Good thing you won't be watching it for the plot.

Sakai Yuji is a normal kid with normal ambitions and expectations from his life. One fine day, though, en route to school, everything around him freezes and he appears to be the only one capable of motion as a giant doll-like creature starts devouring the helpless humans. As it approaches Yuji, a mysterious girl clad in black, with flaming red hair and a literally flaming sword cuts it down. The girl, Shana, explains that she is a Flame Haze, a hunter whose job is to track down and kill the Denizens of the Crimson Realm (i.e. the frozen world, which is, you guessed it, tinted red). Also, turns out that Sakai Yuji is actually dead, and this Yuji is just a temporary copy of the original.

Review:
The anime starts off brilliantly, introducing a highly interesting villain and spinning a horror-story with marked success. A third of the way through, though, it starts losing steam, and the genre veers from horror into a strange mix between action and slice-of-life. The plot wouldn't survive close scrutiny, so it's advisable to avoid looking for holes - there are numerous. It's not really as though the characters are very unique either, which leaves a major question: why does this show have three seasons?

To be honest, yours truly isn't quite sure. One theory is that this anime has at least one quality appealing to almost everyone. There are villains with evil goals, a love triangle, conflicting views on the value of a Torch (a 'replacement copy' like Yuji), rivalry between a pair of strong characters, and everyday life anyone can relate to. While Shana herself is typical to the point where she could be replaced with Ayano from Kaze no Stigma and no one would notice, Yuji doesn't take completely to the backseat. He's not a punching bag, and he deals pretty well with the sudden turn his life has taken (a little too well, maybe, depending on your taste). Most importantly, both their powers and skills grow throughout the series, but they never outshine the villains' abilities. The series also does an excellent job of balancing its unusual combination of genres, and is packed neatly into its 24 episodes set.

The soundtracks are nothing you'd want to go back to, unfortunately, but they're not off-putting either, which is more than what you can ask for sometimes. The style of artwork for the characters is the definition of moe (cutesy), but the anime gets serious props for gorgeous backgrounds.

The series doesn't take itself too seriously, so you shouldn't either. It's adapted from light novels, and as long as you don't lift your expectations sky-high, it's relaxing to watch when you have a bit of free time between homework and assignments. If you do enjoy the first season, be sure to work through season two, because that's where the real story - what decent parts there is - lies.





 
 
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Do fairies have tails? That's the question that first pops up when this anime is mentioned. The answer, of course, still eludes me because not even the Mages of the guild Fairy Tail have ever actually seen a Fairy and the origin of their name remains a mystery.

The anime was adopted from Hiro Mashima's popular shounen manga Fairy Tail and it's one of those few mangas which remained loyal to its genre. The plot of the anime is set in Fiore, where mages train day and night to be the strongest magic user in the realm and join magic guilds to take on missions. Fairy Tail is Fiore's number one guild and is hated by their government for its destructive - and sometimes idiotic - members who just drink and party all day.

The anime, instead of portraying a single protagonist, follows a team of mages. The main character is Natsu Dragneel, who uses Fire Dragon Slayer magic and is looking for a dragon named Igneel. Along the way he meets Lucy, a stellar spirit summoning mage and together they team up with Gray Fullbaster (an ice mage) and Erza Scarlet, an S-Class mage (high ranking, dangerous missions mage) and one of Fairy Tail's best.

The thing I liked most about the anime is its variety in the arcs. Every single arc in the anime is extremely entertaining and there's no repetition at all (although some of the characters just keep coming back), whether it's a rival guild invading Fairy Tail or going to war with a dark guild, Natsu and company is always in the centre of trouble.

The anime has got awesome theme songs and these are one of the best I've heard since the legendary ones of FMA and the artwork is fantastic. The plot has got depth and perception and it reaches to almost every character in the guild. There are a few hilarious moments between the actions sequences, the mirth of which will leave you bent over with laughter and there are enough eye candies in the anime to hold a Miss Fairy Tail competition (which they actually do).

One drawback I found in the anime is that there is no equilibrium of strength. No matter how much stronger the opponent is or how beaten down Natsu is, he always (miraculously) wins gloriously. Of course this happens in all shounen animes but in this case, it happens every single time.






 
 
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Honey and Clover received the Kodansha Manga Award for shoujo manga (which means manga for girls, BTW) in 2007. But comparing it with other shoujo titles such as Ouran High School Host Club, Skip Beat, Kaichou wa Maid-sama, Lovely Complex and probably all others, one rather feels a gust of fresh air. Whereas nearly all shoujo manga and anime picture girls getting (apparently) dreamy looking (and perfect in every sense) boyfriends with clichéd and overused plot twists, Honey and Clover basks in the fresh light of Slice of Life genre. No mushy crap, no unrealistic perfectness and certainly no goo-goo eyed, annoying, weak, shallow and pathetic heroines (I am not saying that all shoujo heroines are like that though).

Honey and Clover is the depiction of the day to day activities of a few art school students. Takemoto Yuuta struggles to find his colour palette and the canvas to brush his heart on. But his everyday life is never short of fun and excitement with helpful senior Mayama and eccentric, greedy and hyper Morita. Upon meeting the cute and small Hagumi Hanamoto (Hehe, I know, right? Hagu-chan, she is called. Hehe), Yuuta, along with Morita, falls in love and his visions are filtered by the coat of love. Along the way we meet many other characters, like Ayumi (hopelessly in love with Mayama), Rika (hopelessly loved by Mayama), and Professor Hanamoto, each with character depths deep enough for several manga put together.

Probably the best part about the two seasons of this anime was when Yuuta runs away on a bicycle to 'find himself' and bikes through Japan. For me, those were the most emphatic episodes.

This could have been just a college romantic comedy. But the unbelievably realistic and complex characterisations, solid humour and the simple yet pleasant animation style separates this manga from all others of the Shoujo category. Love is present, yes, quite strongly in fact. But it does not control the story. The story is about growing up, facing rejections and standing tall. This story is about the pain and longing etched into unrequited love. But it always preserves a cheerful atmosphere over the dark brooding melancholia of the soul.

The music is one of the highlights of this anime. The voice acting was very well done. The comedy is well placed and never feels forced. Actually, the humour and the gloominess are blended perfectly to portray a very believable everyday sequence.

The Verdict:
A great anime for all time, not just for the Valentine season. As for availability, internet is your best friend (animax ran it a few years ago).





 
 
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Episodes: 100, 4 seasons 
(+ 3 extra episodes) and one movie 
Status: Ongoing 
Length of each episode: 5 minutes Rating: 15+ 
Genres: Historical, Comedy


The Story
Based loosely on the history of the world, Hetalia begins with WWI. However, before you start thinking this is a dreary, depressing story of war and pain, guess again. Each character is named after a country and acts like a stereotype of the people of that country, whilst historical, political, and military interaction between countries is allegorically represented in Hetalia as interaction between the characters.

The main character is Italy - a pasta loving coward. The story revolves (Don't shoot me!) around the Axis Powers and their encounters against the Allied Forces. However this is one anime with pretty much no plot at all, so along with the two world wars, other pieces of history are shown, including Italy during the renaissance and other snippets tossed in here and there just for fun.

There is, on the other hand, one problem with the story - speed. It is not that big a problem because of the absence of a plot, but sometime the show might seem a little too fast. There are also notes you'd need to pause to read if you want to get many of the history based jokes, which at times might be a bit annoying. One thing is for sure though - you will LOL. Literally.

The Characters
Overall, character design is a definite highlight for this anime. Each stereotype is an excellent representation of that country, with plenty of quirks and awesomeness. This might also be a good time to mention the fact that Hetalia is a bishonen. Remember how I mentioned that history is represented by interactions between countries? Yeah, it can get pretty suggestive at times, but honestly, the whole thing is portrayed all in good humour, not to mention awkwardness is relatively few and far between. You are more likely to be stifling hysterical bouts of laughter than asking questions.

The Visuals
The animation in Axis Power Hetalia is pretty good. It is nothing breathtakingly amazing, but it is not bad either. The details of the scenes differ depending on the mood of the scenes and are usually quite laid back, mainly using pastels. Personally though, I wish the characters were a little more detailed.

The Sound
For the first time in my life, I am going to say something I never thought I'd say - watch it in English. Honestly, the FUNimation dub is epic. Each and every one of the character has an accent of some sort or another. It simply does not feel the same in the Japanese dub. The ending songs (two so far) are also noteworthy. I swear you will be singing them in the shower after a few episodes. (Guilty as charged).

Final Word
Hetalia is an anime with something for everyone. If you like comedies, if you have a passion for History or Geography, then this is a jewel of an anime for you. Looking for a short anime to kill a little time? Here's five minutes of insane hilarity per episode. And then there are the fangirls. All I have to say is there is a boatload of anime guys in military uniforms. Hurry up!

Some of the series is widely available on torrents, some are not. You could just stream the whole thing. After all, five minutes per episode is like watching a YouTube video.

DISCLAIMER: The writer will not be held responsible for and nose bleeds, concussions, fangrling or addictions caused from watching this anime.