Keita Amemiya got his start in the anime industry in character monster designing with 1989’s Ultraman. His first created work had been on Iria: Zeiram The Animation. An action sci-fi adventure series. Where he really shines though is in his fantasy works– Mahou Shoujotai, Garo and horror OVA G-9.
Makai Knights under a code of honor by the Order are sent throughout the land to kill Horrors– humans that are consumed by their own grief and/or hatred. German’s wife is killed by being burned at the stake fueling the inevitable witch hunts led by Valiante King’s advisor Mendoza. Some of the best narratives are the side-cast that Garo focuses on. The horror doctor, the mother and child outed from their village, the blacksmith overcome by his grief of losing his son– so many personal issues with these minor characters really build this world into a larger piece that plays onto Mendoza’s hatred wonderfully well. His backstory is awesome: he throws his wife and child off a cliff because they are marked just like him after he was banished from the Order as a Makai Alchemist because he was power hungry.
Ema Guizman is one of the strongest female characters of the past few seasons– she’s doesn’t believe in the Makai Knights and tries to shoulder everything on her own. The episode where her love with human-turned horror Luciano really illustrates the relationships people have with each other and how the code these Makai Knights and Alchemists follow can sometimes in unfortunate circumstances can change them. Sometimes though the plot is flimsy– the handmade Garo Knight felt entirely out of left field just for the sake of bringing back blacksmith apprentice Juliano. Sometimes there’s overacting in times that doesn’t need to be just to deliver a more intense mood. However, overall the story is so good that it’s easily passable.
The soundtrack is just as good as the art– really dark and ambitious. MONACA founder Keiichi Okabe is amazing– I couldn’t tell this came from the same group that did the score of Hourou Musuko! It has understated piano tracks and very toned down drum sections compared to Hiroyuki Sawano. It works wonderfully in this series that is subtle with its grim narratives. If you are a fan of Mahou Shoujotai, enjoy watching fantasy series with more mature themes than I highly recommend this series that is a twisted take on the tokusatsu genre!
Let’s see more original series from Amemiya like this one in the future!
OVERALL IMPRESSION: [91/100]
From the past few episodes I knew this series would be around the 70’s rating range for me. I’m not such a huge fan of harem series however Saenai hits a lot of the right notes in being unconventional. Based on a light novel series hat leads to collection of successful witty narratives between different female tropes about doujin creation. If only the creators took the time in developing some kind of tie-in to how a dating sim game is created. Perhaps they should have taken note from Bakuman was with the manga industry and how it had gradually shifted nicely between making serialization deadlines to timeframe of artwork and writing chapters. I hope that the second season rectifies this glaring issue for me. Aside from that the pacing in this is gradual, something that director Kanta Kamei knows really well on how to achieve after seeing his work on Usagi Drop.
The music score by Hajime Hyakkoku is toned down in the impact and yet a lot of the pieces throughout Saenai‘s episodes end up being up-lifting. Tons of keyboard compositions. Similar to his other works on K-On! and Gugure! Kokkuri-san.
This is much better than his directorial disaster on Nanana— I believe that show had a poor scenario writer and planner. Saenai for most of its run was very funny– introduced its trope characters of Utaha and Eriri with just enough background that is familiar in this genre and still remains a refreshing contrast to Tomoya’s drive for anything that defines him as an otaku. His room illustrates this point greatly.
OVERALL IMPRESSION: [73/100]
At last the conclusion is here. I admit I wish this series was more than 2-cour– it truly is a wonderful fantasy setting with mature themes wrapped around the tokusatsu genre. Amemiya is able to mix these elements together without being flimsy.
So it looks like I was on the mark about German. It’s great that this series didn’t wrap up right after Leon’s fight against the stereotypical final form Mendoza.
World domination in fantasy series have been beaten to death over the years but I have to hand it to creator Keita Amemiya in writing about a world with so much intrigue behind it. I say this because the ending here lightly touches on the Horror’s realm right towards the gate. Mendoza trapped inside of it after German sacrifices himself has me wondering if we will get to see that world eventually in another season or the feature film that was announced.
The voice acting in this is incredibly solid– Takaya Hashi pulls off a wonderfully displaced Makai Alchemist turned villainous god desperately wanting to survive at the end of this! Seriously! This and Kemonozume‘s Jin Kakinoki are probably my favorite roles he’s ever done– he’s really scary. He would do justice as the antagonist of Urasawa’s Pluto. If that ever gets made.
OVERALL IMPRESSION: 9/10
Hajime no Ippo Rising director Shun Kudo handled a very pivotal episode here that could either make Garo really good or end up having a weak ending. This episode left tons out in the open to the viewer– is Ema dead? How about German because we don’t see his death on screen. With only 1 episode left I’d say Kudo directed a well-polished cliffhanger here– Ximenia bears German’s child which makes me wonder if the feature film will focus on that character. Is this intentional build-up for more?
The animation throughout this entire episode is fantastic– Octavia’s apocalyptic design brings this show back artistically to how this series had reminded me of D.Gray-man. Its grim perspective on humans’ deepest darkest emotions with a fantasy twist– Horrors are created from the melancholic feelings of a person’s soul. We saw that a ton in the first half of Garo where Leon and German vanquished Horrors without a second thought that they could save the people succumbed to them.
Octavia is a great representation of a person that lost something or someone and was taken in by Mendoza: ultimately being manipulated as a tool for his desires. Even her design screams the sexual representation that this anime series focuses on with its female characters. Recently, I’ve been re-watching Kemonozume by Masaki Yuasa and can see similarly with Garo how pertinent it can be when a series handles sex: bridging a gap between genders and how mature sequences can motivate its characters further along. This is a big reason why I like this series– it has been about passing on your genes as a Makai Knight and this show doesn’t glaze over the fact on how that is done.
OVERALL IMPRESSION: 9/10
A feature-length animated film has been announced for the Garo series and I wonder if it will be a compilation of this series or an alternate take on the universe. This has been an exceptional series with episodes in-between that lack substance however this episode kicks it back right on track! Really enjoying what MONACA has been doing with the soundtrack!
I like this episode quite a bit. Mendoza is trying to harness the power of Anima– a collection of human souls all unified at single point to create a Horror based on the witch hunts we saw from the beginning of this series! Fantastic! He’s been setting his plans up all this time, German working alongside him didn’t even know this and I like how it’s this balance that gives Mendoza the upper hand. Even to where Ema, Leon and Alfonso get trapped inside an alternate dimension of a futuristic city. I really like how vastly different the world they are in is compared to the melancholic background designs of Valiante!
The CG might have looked distinctly out-of-place during German’s fight with the demon soldiers and there were some distorted facial expressions this episode nonetheless the plot is finally moving at a pace [unlike last episode] without layering too much on it! It’s a basic perspective of Mendoza wanting to regain the power he had been originally corrupt to attain in the very beginning and now his dreams are becoming a reality.
Octavia’s loyalty displays this spot-on– she’s foolish, prideful and until now was unable to understand the anguish of a Horror. She’s become the sacrificial piece to Mendoza’s plans that usually would have been thrown together last minute however without Episode 20 this would not have been as powerful. I also thought it showed greatly how lost she is leaving a close-to-dead German alive in order to challenge Garo Knight Leon.
OVERALL IMPRESSION: 8/10
We’ve got quite the veteran director working on this episode here. Masami Hata. Starting out around the early 60’s as an animator for Mushi Pro. This at the time was the leading studio in animation as it was headed by the grandfather of japanese animation– Osamu Tezuka. This is where he started his directorial debut with television series Wonder 3. I can clearly see how strong his influence is on this episode here– the camera angles feel rather old-school. Before Sanrio’s animation company dissolved he worked as a director on some of their top feature films of the 70’s well into the 80’s. If I recall, two of the biggest produced films he worked on were Adventures in Slumberland and Chirin no Suzu also known as Ringing Bell. As of today Hata works as a freelance animator, script writer and episode director. This and Hajime no Ippo Rising are about the only episode directed television series he’s worked on that I can recall as of late.
The heroic death trope. This has been overdone to death in fantasy series and Garo isn’t any different even if takes an entire episode to build up to the inevitable fate of German Luis. So many things happen in this– Mendoza wants to control the world through Horrors, Garm and German are willing to destroy all of Valiante in order to deal a large blow to the Horrors coming out of the gate. A tough decision between knights that are supposed to restore peace and order throughout the lands– especially for Alfonso. The young prince that lost his mother through Mendoza’s cause will only lead to more suffering. I do have to wonder what sort of Horror Alfonso would have turned out to be if the country had been destroyed here.
German backing these ideals really illustrates Leon’s abrasive angst towards his father really well. The flashback sequence that plays against the good use of CG fight between father and son portrays the relationship they have in a much more closer manner than what we’ve seen. Somehow I feel their past should have had more focus for at least an entire episode or two much earlier; possibly in the first half of Garo.
As this series is concluding for me it has done well in establishing its characters by focusing on the minor cast around them. Getting to the end though is a rushed attempt at giving a somewhat satisfying ending especially with this episode’s jump between father/son quest of redemption, Makai Knights decision to choose what is the greater sacrifice and Mendoza’s twisted plot to reclaim the very world that denied him.
This would have been an awesome stopping point for a
OVERALL IMPRESSION: 6/10
This is rare. The final episodes of Saenai are broadcast back-to-back. The Episode 0 and now having a 12-episode run on Noitamina? What is going on here? In the past couple of years I’d say around 2010 the programming block received an additional timeslot– this can either hurt and help them in the long run. We’ve had a couple of poorly produced series since this block got two shows per season however we’ve also had tons of amazing series in this too! Sanaei is very unconventional in delivering a harem series and now I can clearly see its this case with the production of it too– using an OVA fan service episode from the get-go is definitely a different style to introduce its cast.
Since we’ve had the Eriri and Utaha’s arcs fully completed its time for Michiru to shine and these two episode added a nice spotlight to otaku outside of the realm of manga with attention focused on music. Megumi also receives the attention she deserves as she’s learned a lot in tsundere personality type Eriri and yundere Utaha in that she’s level-headed. She’s a mix of a lot of characteristics that most japanese works featuring girls fall into but comes out alive from it.
The sourness from Eriri and Utaha finding out about Michiru being a closer childhood friend to Tomoya separates exactly what he wants out of Megumi as the main heroine without shoving information in our faces here. Great to see! Probably the best part of this is how the creator’s built-up Michiru’s band — their problematic and Michiru worries that they would shun her for being involved in an otaku endeavor.
The entire scene from this episode where Tomoya reveals that her band is originally involved with anime is priceless! Quite the unexpected route. It illustrates how playful this show is– camera angles of Michiru straddling Tomoya [aboslutely loved Eriri and Utaha’s reactions to this!], the generic and unfortunate to Michiru backstory around the Icy Tail, every bit of this came together so smoothly! The icing on the cake though is their performance of Sorairo Days which happens to be another the song from the anime Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann! I like how this performance of theirs gives life to Michiru and the passion she needs to have in helping with Tomoya’s dream of creating the best dating sim game ever. The animation isn’t as good as performances in Haruhi Suzumiya or Space Dandy but does in fact get the point across that Michiru is destined to be a part of Blessing Software. As well as give us a good look into what Michiru is actually like outside of her sociopathic behavior.
While these two episodes didn’t provide any conclusion whatsoever it did give just enough push to make this series further up on my list of good anime series. Can’t wait to see more of these girls’ interactions in the second season and how they come up with the development of the game! Much better than last year’s Spring moe-mystery series Nanana.
OVERALL IMPRESSION: 9/10
This is probably the weakest of Saenai yet and it’s a shame because we’re finally introduced to Hyoudou Michiru the musician of Blessing Software. This is miles below the greatness of the previous episodes even in terms of animation! What happened here?
What the creators failed to achieve here is bring in the cousin trope [which is overused by the way] so late in the show– they should have advertised this series to have a second season off the bat because I can see how they turned a lot of people off with this episode. She’s a sociopath– throwing out Tomoya’s sacred anime treasures really strikes that he’s got a lot of work to do in recruiting her within a 25 minute one time.
However, this episode doesn’t even resolve much of that as we get an overstuffed display of sexual devices– the shower segment, suggestive camera angles of Michiru and of course the funny yet unsatisfying conclusion where a naked Tomoya asks his cousin to make the ultimate dating sim game.
OVERALL IMPRESSION: 4/10
The anime industry in the past year is finally churning out works that realistically fall into the category of informative series. Shirobako and Saenai take the approach of how the world of Japanese entertainment works without sidelining important details. While Shirobako [which I should write about eventually if I ever get time to] is about the hardships and the creative minds behind making an anime; Saenai uses a creative style of wit and female character models within the harem genre to deliver a spot-on narrative about students wanting to make a doujin game.
Both Tomoya and Eriri have a stubbornness about them that’s very refreshing when it has to be and results in how they had grown up. Eriri used to be Tomoya’s only view of inspiration as we see in the numerous flashback sequences throughout this episode– those crayon-esque backgrounds [is that the same background artist for Rolling Girls?] look amazing. The background designs for the rest of the series is done by animation studio Kusanagi– same team that did illustrations for [C] The Money of Soul and Possibility Control, Magi, Gunsmith Cats and the Read or Die OVA. They also have done a ton of artwork for various video games including the Final Fantasy series.
This entire episode is dedicated to Eriri and Tomoya’s relationship however it’s great to see that Utaha isn’t completely out of the picture with that funny scuffle between the girls. I enjoyed the Utaha arc much better than this one because of how subtle the jabs were between the two of them. Eriri’s is cookie-cutter: the childhood friend trope that separates the male lead from her because of bullies. She’s temperamental and yells at Tomoya at the slightest pen drop– that often at times throughout this series is too dramatic. Even now she still views herself as the girl in love with young Tomoya. Regardless of my issues with the overused tactic, I like how we get to see her father selling his daughter’s work at Comiket. She’s had supportive parents all her life that hits home Saenai‘s larger themes about artistic potential and the respect that comes along with it.
Both the Utaha and Eriri’s arcs are about unresolved love with Tomoya and how the girls view their own work from him– in other words finding approval. This is where the basis of a visual harem novel story intertwining from Blessing Software game to reality comes into play. And I might add this certainly shakes up Saenai‘s biggest theme of all that a creator’s relationship with their work is the fundamental key in establishing a successful bond between artist, scenario writer and in this series’ case main heroine together.
OVERALL IMPRESSION: 6/10
Last time was build up for everything that occurs here– Tomoya helps Izumi out by promoting her doujin at Comiket. Since the series began I’ve noticed that this series is a tried-and-true harem with a unique twist– Eriri and Utaha both accept the fact that Megumi isn’t there for romance purposes but for Tomoya’s career goal of creating a doujin game that will capture people’s hearts. Both girls are here to help Tomoya get this idea into a reality through their talents of writing and artistic skills.
With the introduction of Izumi last episode there is finally a storm coming– she’s disturbing the once complacent relationships between the three girls and Tomoya in the most generic harem way as possible– jealousy. She’s vying for his attention and affections– through Tomoya’s eagerness at making her inspired to enjoy japanese illustrated works. Utaha is absent for pretty much the entire episode and it makes sense here that why this is. This is more keen on a rivalry between Eriri and Izumi– two doujin artists trying to make it big in the world of Comiket. Great way to enrich these characters by learning about their own personal goals while the main story of doujin authoring takes a backseat.
Knowing that this series will be receiving a second season sometime in the future this makes this episode one of the stronger ones of Saenai due to its cleverly-timed sequences of passion between Izumi wanting to become better, Tomoya vicariously fighting in promoting Izumi’s work so that he can understand how he will jump start his and of course Eriri’s dramatic cries for help. My favorite character here though has to be Megumi because while she’s dense she is acting out [in various ways] how she should be Tomoya’s girlfriend wonderfully– “get your mitts off my Tomoya, you home wrecker”. Her scenes are really funny and is a fantastic contrast between reality and the otaku dream of game creation.
OVERALL IMPRESSION: 8/10