Anime Secret Santa Review: Lovely Complex, Hataraki Man, and Macross Plus

While I always had the inclination to watch Hataraki Man, having an early 00’s romcom and a Kawamori mecha show recommended to me seemed a bit odd at first. Didn’t matter to me much by the end, however, since I ended up watching them all and then some. So congrats, secret santa. I have watched all your animu. And I have opinions.

Lovely Complex

[KissSub]Lovely Complex - 13[4E63182A]XviD.avi_snapshot_16.34_[2015.11.15_19.41.16]

It’s easy to say that Lovely Complex is a plain, simple, no nonsense shoujo romcom. There’s love, but it gets complicated. Pretty simple, by-the-numbers stuff. The main couple to be, Risa and Otani, are naturally paired together by their peers for their unintentional manzai skits and are unwillingly dubbed “All Hanshin Kyojin”, denoting Risa’s tall stature and Otani’s pitiful shortness. The anime starts out with the two just being great friends fanboying/fangirling over their favorite musical artists and finding enthusiasm and fun over the same things. Enough so that it convinces the rest of their group that the two should just find a room and bone the shit out of each other already. This all changes once Risa realizes that she’s in love with Otani, and that’s where this story really begins to move.

Did I say move? I meant that it begins to stop, smell the roses, fiddle with the teacup a bit, take a light sip, stare off into the sunset, sigh one of those great heavy sighs while pondering the great mysteries of the cosmos, and then begrudgingly moves exactly one centimeter in an indeterminate direction. Upwards, maybe?

Stories like these remind me of that one rock in the Undertale ruins that, when asked permission to move itself onto a pressure switch, gleefully wastes your time by moving only a tiny bit, then moving back to its original position, then moving in the wrong direction, and then changing the subject about why your waifu is actually shit, until finally moving where it’s supposed to. The relationship in Lovely Complex goes up, goes down, goes sideways, enters a wormhole, jumps into another dimension, basically anything in its power to go anywhere other than “Otani realizes that Risa likes him” and then does the same chicken dance for “Otani likes Risa”. Each episode, subsequently, had a clear format: establish the current relationship plus any recent development, something happens, that something creates a misunderstanding between the two, mope for exactly five minutes and twenty-seven seconds, talk to friends, make up, and add a new development.

Once you realize the format, Lovely Complex becomes very easy to predict. And truly, it’s been a while since I was so frustrated by my own prescience, and judging by the side character’s reactions to the main pair’s “will they or won’t they” dynamic, Lovely Complex is surely doing this on purpose. Of course it’s a given that Risa and Otani are going to end up together. Given the show’s tone and sense of humor, there’s no purpose in betraying my expectations with a sudden dark twist. So the real entertainment in this show was laid upon the space in between those two developments. And you know what? From purely a character development standpoint, I think this show does it very well. Both Risa’s and Otani’s thought processes are closely monitored as new developments happen and I can only think of a select few instances where their trains of thought felt too unnatural. Otherwise, it really did feel that with each episode there was some sort of significant change happening in the relationship. Enough so that when they finally do get together, I can feel the progression that led up to that moment. Lovely Complex is very fulfilling in that respect.

What’s not so fulfilling about this show is the setups, which pull from as many romcom cliches as you can think of. Both Otani and Risa have past relations with characters their opposite sex who suddenly appear. One exceedingly and stereotypically pretty girl threatens to steal away Otani until it’s revealed that she’s a trap. Otani and Risa’s friends do everything in their damnedest capabilities to get the two together during class field trips and festivals, their conviction fittingly matching my own frustration. A hot bishounen teacher with his shirt half-buttoned transfers into the school and steals Risa’s heart away. They even do that thing where the girl falls out of love just as the guy falls into it!  These, and many more of their kind, dominate the format of Lovely Complex and I want to believe that there’s a better way to go about this. Especially for someone who is deathly aware of these romcom tropes by now, no amount of subversion was going to negate the fact that I had to, once again, sit through them in order to get to the real meat of the story.

Another thing that bothered me a lot was the emotional whiplash, or at least the degree that it switched from one mood to the other. Conceptually, I don’t mind it. These people are teenagers after all, it’s easy to expect fickleness and denial, as well as characters being visibly sad about something and then suddenly get angry when their love interest fails to read their mind. However, those moments seem heavy-handed even for a show like Lovely Complex. Once the reaction faces stop and someone is actually angry instead of irritated for comedy purposes, the characters look downward and mope. Then, like clockwork, that fucking tune plays in the background. Of all the obvious story beats that Lovely Complex makes use of, this was the one that really made me feel emotionally manipulated.

And then there’s this:

[KissSub]Lovely Complex - 07[B21EAC5F]XviD.avi_snapshot_21.17_[2015.11.09_21.56.29]

You fucking knew, didn’t you? DIDN’T YOU? I am so triggered right now you don’t even know.

ANYWAYS, I thought the romance aspect of Lovely Complex was conceptually well done but relies on a lot of predictable and bad romcom conventions to get to that point. The comedy part isn’t worth mentioning because it’s perfect and has good reaction faces. The music is servicable but I definitely won’t be searching for the OST for a good time. The animation sometimes doesn’t fuck up, but when it does…

QUALITY BIKE

I think I posted like sixteen reaction faces on Twitter so Lovely Complex gets a 16/10.

Hataraki Man

[Arienai]_Hataraki_Man_-_08[1280x720][b5bc6303].mp4_snapshot_10.08_[2015.12.24_22.04.03]

Hataraki Man follows the exploits of Matsukata Hiroko, an editor for JIDAI Magazine and resident workaholic. JIDAI isn’t necessarily a groundbreaking publication, filled with meaningless gossip columns and equally meaningless articles about God knows what. Despite this, Hiroko is dedicated to her job. She loves the writing process, to go out for research, interviews, and the occasional snack before diving back into her laptop with all the conviction of a stereotypical working man. This, in turn, feeds into her nickname “Hataraki Man”.

From the start, it’s clear that the anime wishes to talk about very adult topics. Not in the sense that it’s bad for children to see it, but instead in the sense that children would not understand what Hataraki Man is talking about. No child really experiences workplace fatigue, the daily grind of an office job, the sometimes unreasonable nature of a publishing business, not having sex with your partner for months at a time due to working too late into the night, sexism, ethics of gossip columns, the existential crisis inherent to mindlessly working day in and day out, etc. I admit that I initially found those kinds of problems hard to identify with. After all, I am not a older Japanese woman with a grueling white collar job. However, as I continued to watch more Hataraki Man, the more comfortable I was with figuring out what the show wants to portray.

See, I didn’t compare this show to Shirobako, though apt as that anime may be. Instead, my mind veered towards a little known anthology named Otona Joshi no Anime Time, which takes a similarly understated and melancholic approach to the cast and their feelings about their job. While Shirobako shouts encouragement across the mountaintops in the face of insurmountable odds, Hataraki Man admits the harrowing uncertainty of being in a cubicle for most of your daily life without much of an answer towards how it could be solved. Sure, Hataraki Man also sings its encouragement at times too, but it’s a lot more reserved about when those moments happen, and many of the conflicts in Hataraki Man are too small scale to really reap any kind of jubilation other than a sigh of relief and a “Yay, I didn’t get fired today”.

Still, I find Hataraki Man interesting in its blunt approach as well as its morality. The show almost idolizes the working spirit, going so far as to say that the social and physical consequences of overwork are worth all the pain it brings as long as you love your job. For Hiroko, her dedication to her job has a lot of drawbacks. Some of her coworkers are disdainful or perhaps jealous of her. Even her boyfriend is secretly indimidated by the machismo she exerts to get her job done, and their work schedules often do not match up so they are unable to have fun together. Sometimes it feels as if she’s the only one who takes this job seriously. Because Hiroko’s life is so consumed with work, everything else around her becomes a blur. Hataraki Man thinks this is an okay mentality to have, but this not about whether I agree or disagree with that message. I realize that I’m very far removed from this sort of world and culture, so perhaps self-inserting into these situations would not be the most informed thing to do when judging the show on its actual qualities. So, I don’t see this anime as much of a showcase of relevant morals for me to abide by. Instead, I respect it as a commentary of Japanese workplace dynamics. In that sense, I enjoyed watching Hataraki Man.

I think the only thing that actively bothered me about this anime was the choppiness of its animation, a complaint that can be levied upon every single one of its episodes. Fortunately with as low key as it is plot-wise, Hataraki Man would not have benefitted very much from having a talented animation team. However, that doesn’t make the hiccups any less noticeable and subsequently makes the anime visually boring to look at most of the time.

That music, though. There’s a nice breadth of emotions, most notably dabbling in relaxing/active jazz pieces, that Yugo Kanno composes for Hataraki Man. I don’t have much else to say other than that this particular track is in my playlist of anime jazz.

So yeah. Hataraki Man is pretty good. Yep.

Macross Plus

Macross Plus - Movie Edition (BD 720) (KAA) (NakamaSub).mkv_snapshot_00.05.39_[2015.12.24_23.01.18]

Fun fact: I didn’t really see why this was recommended to me until after I finished the OVAs. So Shinichiro Watanabe co-directed this thing? And Yoko Kanno did the music? Given my track record with shows with this same combo (Cowboy Bebop, Sakamichi no Apollon, Zankyou no Terror) I now completely understand why I ended up liking this anime the most out of the three.

I like when a show is not in-your-face on what it’s about. I also like when a show does artsy fartsy stuff with the camera and color work. I like that when a conversation happens I’m given the dots but not the connecting lines in between, which gives me the opportunity to connect those dots at my own leisure. I also like sakuga and good music. Macross Plus, thankfully, has all of these things. Constantly. The production value of Macross Plus alone could have made for an amazing anime. Unfortunately, I cannot sing praises about everything in Macross Plus and many of my criticisms stem from the story.

While it’s clear that a love triangle exists between the three main characters, the actual details of their relationship are both complicated and not entirely explained, at least at first. The anime does a good job of slowly revealing more pieces of their past and eventual breakup, but seeing them bicker in between those points was admittedly grating by the third OVA. I understand that it’s against Isamu’s personality to say the truth straight to Guld about what actually happened to break them up, and that Myung is so insecure about herself that she can’t openly choose between the two of them, and that Guld is just an angry piece of shit with nothing better to do than pretend he’s using the Force in his super special psychic airplane, but a long hour and a half worth of these static personalities is not fun to watch. Thankfully, things finally come to a head at the fourth OVA and the story ramps up for a really, really good finale. In terms of just the story, watching that last OVA made slogging through the other three completely worth it.

So it’s very odd to me that the OVAs were suggested over the movie. Conveniently enough, the way I “acquired” Macross Plus happened to have the movie alongside the OVAs and by pure curiosity I opened the file to see if anything got changed. To my surprise, there was a lot. I figured that the movie had to cut out material from the OVAs to fit its 1hr 50min runtime, probably about 40 minutes worth of scenes if I’m measuring this correctly, but I discovered a lot of movie-exclusive content that took its place. Personally, I think the movie flows better than the OVAs thanks to these changes, which basically compressed the first three OVAs, left the fourth mostly intact, and added a whole bunch of extra content throughout. Meaning, less love triangle bickering, more sakuga planes, and more concentrated Isamu douchebaggery.

I revisited the series not long after I initially finished it about a month before writing this review, and I’ve started to appreciate more the structure of the OVAs and the information present in them that was taken out for the movie. Thus, If I were to personally recommend this to anyone, I’d definitely want them to see the OVAs first and then the movie for a more enhanced experience of all the good things that made Macross Plus the way it is. Regardless, this was a very good anime, and I’m glad I watched it.

Praise be to our overlords Watanabe-sama and Kanno-sama. We are not worthy. We are not worthy.

Addendum

  • This was a good selection to choose from this year, so I felt obligated to write how I felt about all three. Thanks, anime santa, for this.
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2 comments

  1. […] Lovely Complex, Hataraki Man, and Macross Plus as recommended […]

  2. It is always nice to see you enjoyed all three picks. You clearly liked Macross Plus and Hataraki Man more than Lovely Complex but thankfully none of them were a chore which was very nice.

    I have to agree with your assessment of Hataraki Man. I think Hataraki Man appeals to me after working for years in an office environment. The longer you work that environment the stronger you relate to Hiroko’s life.

    – Alain

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