It’s been thirteen years since their very founding and A-1 Pictures is still the anime equivalent of Satan. Or EA. Oh wait, there is no difference.
I’m aware at this point that hating on A-1 Pictures has become a “popular” thing to do in the same way that Justin Bieber was popular to hate back when his voice sounded like Jake Lloyd auditioning for a role in one of those awful Chipmunks movies. Anyone who accuses me of joining in is obviously mistaking me for one of the many close-minded elitists who think that paying attention to who made an anime over what the anime actually contains is a mindset we need to support. I hated A-1 way before Digibro declared them to be the McDonalds of anime, and even ignoring Sword Art Online, what do you want me to praise from them? Ultimate Otaku Teacher? Aldnoah Zero? Birdy the Mighty Decode? And to this very day, they haven’t done one thing to change my mind. Only dig themselves deeper into the hatesink with every show they release.
Let me make this clear right now: I have seen worse anime from worse production companies, but I can’t think of a single one out there whose existence I respect less than Aniplex’s malformed punching bag of a company. Since their very formation, they have produced over seventy anime series and nearly twenty movies, not one of which was worth watching. And before you guys chalk up me not liking this company as “different opinions”, I just want to state that their business practices are awful as well.
You guys want to know how they keep churning out several anime a season on a constant basis? Because they’re less a studio and more of a corporate machine. They have no consistent staff, frequently rotating in whoever wants a paycheck, generally resulting in many rushed adaptations that try and fail to cover up their shortcomings with some of the worst visual shortcuts I’ve seen short of Shin Oonuma’s output. How the hell do have a reputation for their animation looking polished when it seems to me that the majority of their output look like ass?
They produced a new Fate adaptation last year that raised controversy when it turned out that Netflix had taken it hostage. Then it turned out the series was considered more awful than the 2005 Fate/Stay Night adaptation made by Deen on a narrative and visual standpoint, so it turns out Netflix’s actions were more like an act of charity.
They teamed with up Trigger to make one of the biggest mecha properties since the heyday of Gurren Lagann. And it ended up getting the Internet so mad that it’s practically become the mecha version of Sword Art Online itself. Plus there’s the frequent off-model animation.
They made Grancrest Senki recently. Do you guys know what Grancrest Senki is? Of course you don’t. Because that’s how A-1 alleviates the hate towards them: making bad shows that no one remembers so their fans can conveniently defend them with From the New World, a show that was not only incredibly boring and had animation that resembled badly made live-action films, it came out six years ago. You want people to stop using Sword Art Online as proof that A-1 sucks? How about you guys stop bringing up an ugly-looking series that you could have given to Madhouse or White Fox and nothing would have changed as proof that they’re worth paying attention to?
And do I even have to mention the Persona 5 adaptation? Which I should point out is headed by the same director who helmed From the New World? It remains the only anime this year that I actively dropped because I couldn’t bear to see one of my favorite video games butchered by this malevolent hellspawn we dare to call an animation studio…for the fourth fucking time! Yeah, kind of hard to support a company when they consistently ruin that what you love, last I checked.
Yet somehow, while anime studios like Production IMS were thankfully put out of business so that I never have to see them on the charts again (I’m sorry for the people who lost their jobs), A-1 Pictures’s refusal to leave has made them one of the biggest names in the industry alongside Bones, KyoAni, Shaft, Trigger, and so on and so forth. Plus they own the rights to make all of the Sword Art Online adaptations, of which they’ve recently announced their intention to adapt every single story no matter how long it took, so it’s not like they’re in a position to just go away. Not with how surprisingly relevant the series has continued to be since it changed the fandom forever in 2012.
Which I’d be fine with if they just focused exclusively on SAO for a while. I wouldn’t like it, but maybe the animation would start looking decent on that series as a result. As you can guess from how they went so far as to establish a secondary studio called Cloverworks in order to work on more experimental projects (with said projects being Persona 5 and a sequel to their godawful Ace Attorney adaptation, so obviously by “experimental”, they mean “same shit as always but…no there’s no but after that”), they have no intention of practicing anything remotely resembling “quality over quantity”.
Oh, and did I mention that A-1 has no visual personality, which is a very important thing considering animation is a visual medium that can accomplish things live-action is incapable of? All I can recall standing out about them compared to other production companies is how when they’re not making frequent animation mistakes, their cinematography looks like a (bad) live-action production that someone just threw an animation filter over, which pretty much goes against the whole point of animation as far as I’m concerned.
So yeah, not liking their anime is one thing, but the fact that they’re nothing but a money-making tool that willingly encourages the suppression of artistic integrity and creative vision if it means appealing to a broad market is something I will never forgive or support. And fittingly enough, their latest offering to the noitamina timeslot as well as the subject for this reivew, Wotakoi: Love is Hard for an Otaku, is a good example when it comes to showcasing everything wrong with this company. First off, it’s an incredibly popular anime based off an also-popular manga because the premise appeals to a large demographic of anime fans. Second, because of A-1’s utter contempt towards animation, they decided to phone it in for this adaptation and just let the source material do all the talking. After all, why bother appealing outside of their main demographic when it’s so large as is? Sound depressing? Well what I find more depressing is how right they were, because I think this series is the most watched anime of the Spring 2018 season that’s not a sequel.
As you can probably guess from the title, Wotakoi is a romantic comedy about otaku falling in love and experiencing the difficulties that come with balancing real life and being a nerd. Hold on a minute! Isn’t that just Saekano again? Well no, but it really speaks to how bland A-1’s series can be that you can read their premises and become completely disengaged before you even look at the show proper. Although to be fair, I could say the same for the majority of the upcoming Summer 2018 season. I guess Banana Fish’s premise is okay, but all of the other descriptions are so gimmicky and mass-produced that I fall asleep after reading five words of each.
But no, Wotakoi is actually a show about otaku in love who are also working adults. Oh great, so is this one of those comedy anime where being an adult actually matters like Shirobako or Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid? Or is this one of the many gimmicky copycats where you could have replaced the characters with middle-schoolers and nothing would have changed about the actual plot? It really goes a long way to show how low anime sets the bar that having older protagonists – something that at least 90% of every American comedy ever made has – is seen as instantly praise-worthy.
The two lead characters and supposed main couple of the series are Narumi Momose and Hirotaka Nifuji. The former is the stereotypical excitable fujoshi whose hobbies tend to get her dumped by whoever she dates whilst the latter is the stereotypical quiet gamer who comes off as aloof but has been in love with the fujoshi since they were young. There’s also another couple serving as the secondary protagonists in the same way Jason Segal and Alyson Hannigan did in How I Met Your Mother named Hanako Koyagi (a cosplay otaku) and Taro Kabakura (a regular otaku). I would mention the last two important characters and supposed third couple, but one of them is a presence-less pansy and the other doesn’t show up until the second-to-last episode.
Wotakoi is basically a romantic comedy about nerds dating each other. At least on paper, that’s what it’s about. In reality, it’s more of a slice-of-life show about a bunch of office friends hanging out with each other, discussing waifus, and playing MMOs, given how the main couple go through the entire series without even holding hands to the point that the confession at the beginning of the series might as well have not existed. The show is so safe and basic with its subject matter that whoever bothers to write episode summaries for anime on Wikipedia gave up on doing it for Wotakoi after the first week, most likely because he forgot what happened every time he finished an episode just like I did.
I know I’m copping out a bit here, but there’s really nothing to say about the events of Wotakoi besides nothing interesting ever happens, especially when what I said above pretty much encompasses the entire show. From what I can understand, the show became a big hit because its target audience is obviously anime fans, a lot of anime fans these days (at least in the West) are adults, and a good chunk of them are really awkward around others. I’m assuming these are the types of fans that don’t go to conventions, seeing as how most of the people I see at A-kon are all party folks who are open to smoking weed, twerking it on lamp posts, and dancing to the Cupid Shuffle. Well actually that’s not true. I’ve been given to understand that a lot of the big-name anime people who I’m aware are either married or dating erotic cosplayers find this show to be relatable as well. Wow you guys must have really boring sex lives if that’s the case.
Yes, I’m fully aware that the show is also relatable because it plays into a lot of things otaku do such as get obsessed over cosplay, try to get others to understand their hobbies, and so on and so forth without getting really stupid about nerdism like The Big Bang Theory. And that’s neat and all, but why on earth would I want to watch an entire series of nothing but that? Isn’t the premise of the show supposed to be about nerds dating each other and how hard that can be? I hate to break it to you real-life otaku couples who relate to this anime, but if your love life is exactly like the romance in this show, then you need to end it right now. Because Wotakoi’s narrative is like most bad relationships: it goes absolutely nowhere! And it involves grown adults acting like they’re kids, which makes having the protagonists being working adults completely useless.
As for all of you single people who can relate to this anime, I suggest trying your best to unrelate to it if you want to have any chance of a successful relationship in the future. Even taking into account the differences between Japanese and Western culture, how am I supposed to buy into an otaku romance story when it doesn’t seem like there’s any romance to this story? Or for that matter, any personality?
Are series that never do anything but act cute in the most basic of ways like this and Tada Never Falls in Love really the kind of romantic story you want to be supporting? Did anime fans not watch Tsuki ga Kirei? Did they not watch Scum’s Wish? Was last year’s Recovery of an MMO Junkie series a.k.a “Coincidences: The Anime” a.k.a. “that really badly animated, poorly paced, unfunny dreck whose stance on serious issues ended up as nothing more than a sterile chick flick where the main couple don’t even kiss at the end” really the gold standard that people took from last year’s romance selection? Because who cares about visual metaphors and character-driven stories when you can have a shut-in character who we can relate to and never go beyond that in terms of visuals or narrative momentum? Apparently a lot of people do, because I can count the number of positive reviews for this series that don’t mention MMO Junkie in a positive manner on one hand after the yakuza are done cutting fingers off of it.
And there is absolutely nothing you can say that’ll convince me that Wotakoi is only loved for being a cute cocktease, because one of the most common compliments for this show that I see is something along the lines of “I look forward to reading the manga in order to continue hanging out with these wonderful characters, and I hope you do too”. First off, I don’t read manga. I’m a fan of animation, not a fan of comics. Second, you wouldn’t say “read the original source” as a defense for Game of Thrones. If that show had ended on a cliffhanger that you’d have to read the books to see resolved, most fans would have rioted.
Third, by flat-out admitting that the main strengths of the anime come from the manga it’s based off of, you’re pretty much allowing the production studios to put in as little effort as possible on the visual front because why care about the one big advantage anime has over other mediums if the original substance is still intact, right? And here we get to my biggest problem with the show that I foreshadowed a few paragraphs ago: the animation and direction in Wotakoi is dreadful. There are a ton of off-model shots, the comedic timing is delivered with the same amount of energy as a stand-up comedian on morphine, there are so many obvious cost-cutting backgrounds that I think replacing them with cheap green screen explosions would have been an improvement, and the animation itself is so ridiculously limited that I might as well have been reading the manga instead. In addition to the characters acting like they’re in middle-school, I refuse to believe that anyone over the age of a middle-schooler would find this show to be funny.
One example of A-1’s garbage influence that really stands out for me is the amusement park episode where literally nobody but the main characters and the occasional ride guide move a muscle the entire time. You see the above image of the two leads standing in line for a ride surrounded by a group of people? Said group never move. Not even a blink. At all. For over 2-3 minutes. It’s like the main couple wandered into a computer simulation of a park that was experiencing a lot of crashes rather than an actual place to have fun, and it’s more distracting than the CG crowds in Tsuki ga Kirei’s own amusement park episode will ever be.
Addendum: While rewatching certain scenes from the anime in order to take photos and make sure that they played out the way I describe in the review, I noticed that practically none of the background characters move a muscle in this series. It’s like Re: Creators all over again.
When it comes to anime, animation is supposed to be the personality of the story. So by having the majority of the drawings consist of little to no movement, you’re telling me that Wotakoi is a boring lifeless story. And if the production team isn’t going to believe that Wotakoi is worth the effort to animate, why should I put the effort into watching your attempts to animate it? Don’t even give me that bullshit hipster argument “I don’t watch anime for the animation anyways” because you wouldn’t say that if the animation was good. And I know this for a fact, because there’s a much better anime comedy that aired this same season that didn’t have a lot of pre-hype, and yet it ended up gaining enough popularity to become one of the Spring’s bit hits as well as the favorite of many anime critics thanks largely to the amount of care that was put in it.
Said show in question is Studio Feel’s Hinamatsuri; and before you ask, no I wasn’t a fan of this anime. Most of the jokes fell flat with me, plus I couldn’t take the numerous dramatic moments seriously because they clashed hard with the absurd premise to the point that I was starting to realize its portrayal of homeless people and yakuza wasn’t very accurate. It’s not exactly those Yakuza video games in terms of characterization and tone is what I’m saying.
Still, I at least appreciate it for being made by people who care, which you can easily see from the lively direction that’s used to elevate the somewhat generic art style and animation. And you know Feel cared about this anime because they have and still make a lot of bad shows that they don’t even bother putting visual effort into because they seem to be aware that the substance isn’t worth watching to begin with. They only seem to realize the importance of animation as a tool for visual storytelling when they themselves recognize a story that’s worth telling, and while I question what’s forcing them to make so many bad anime in the first place, at least they understand that for the most part, it’s better to concentrate your efforts on one good anime than it is to constantly churn out mediocrity because of obligations to the point that nothing shines.
Also, while Hinamatsuri is a slice-of-life show like Wotakoi, it realizes that the mundane nature of the genre can also be as effective a tool as shonen action fights to develop the characters, and animation can elevate that mundane nature into something that feels important as well. I can name several visual set pieces from the show from Hina’s bad attempt at delivering a speech for a student council position to that obvious parody of Castaway that went on way too long without any punchlines. Plus, I can describe how a few of the characters have grown over the course of the series compared to when they were first introduced.
Wotakoi does not get the same treatment from me because A-1 Pictures does not breathe life into the material so much as it takes it away. Between characters teleporting every two feet because why bother animating actual movement and MMO games that are more boring to look at than the E3 trailer for Anthem (Have the giant robot stand still and shoot bad guys whilst cluttering the screen with damage numbers. Very exciting gameplay, EA), what might have just been a throwaway comedy ends up becoming one of the biggest insults to anime I’ve seen since…well take your pick of anything else A-1 has made this year. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t make an anime about otaku in love and the difficulties that entail. I’m asking what exactly stands out about this love between otaku that you couldn’t say about any other good romance anime in recent years? Ones that have better story, better chemistry, better character arcs, and for that matter, better production. Yeah they don’t showcase people fighting over the differences between yaoi and yuri, but only the most shallow of people will consider that to be a plus point.
Maybe the actual manga does have progress. Maybe it does portray the adult characters as more than just a gimmick meant to appeal to an older audience. I don’t know and I don’t care because this is an anime and I’m labeling it as horrible because A-1 failed to make it interesting in any way. You could have given this show to KyoAni or Dogakobo or even JC Staff. What, were some of the better newbie studios like Pine Jam and Kamikaze Douga not available? You had to give this source material to the one production company that has never done anything but kill my favorite video games, suck the energy out of talented directors, and can’t even give their most popular works the time and energy it needs to appeal to someone beyond its core fanbase? Because when I was watching One-Punch Man and the average budget that was made on, I was completely underwhelmed by the visual energy and lack of personality that Madhouse put into it. Pft, what a disappointing choice for One’s biggest hit that turned out to be.
I am so goddamn sick of this studio and its presence in the anime industry. I am sick of the awful excuses people make for them, particularly how they have a reputation for polished animation when one look at Wotakoi should easily reveal that’s far from true. I am sick of the terrible design-by-committee practices that make up the entirety of their work to the point that nothing stands out about them. I am sick of seeing their name, or the name of their spin-off studio Cloverworks for that matter, every time I look at a new season on Anichart. Someone want to remind me why we keep giving this studio the time of day again? Do I have to remind you guys what your praise of this awful anime consists of?
In summary, “It captures the spirit of being an otaku, it’s so cute to see these relatable characters being awkward together, I like how it reminds me of MMO Junkie aka the only anime about NEETs that I seem to know about because Welcome to the NHK was before my time, and I’m going to read the manga right after this so I can see more”. None of said praise mentions the production values, or the actual progression of the characters, or the fact that Re: Creators was also a really relatable anime that captured the spirit of being part of the anime fandom yet it ended up sucking anyways, or that empty sexless shell of a final episode where the characters just lived another day of their life before wrapping things up without changing the status quo.
Screw that train of thought. I’ve tried numerous times to stop giving A-1 Pictures shit throughout the years, but if they don’t do anything to make me change my mind, what else is there but to blast them remorselessly? When are they ever going to make good anime? Hell, when are they are going to have a visual style that you couldn’t say about any other production company ever? When are they going to make anime for the love of the medium and not because of corporate obligations that are designed for broad appeal and un-stimulating emotional manipulation? They’ve been at this for more than ten years, they have made more anime in that time than most production studios would make ever, and if anything, they’ve just been getting worse, yet their anime still remain crazy popular because “man this premise speaks to me like One Direction spoke to hormonal teenage girls when they started out”.
The nicest thing I can say about Wotakoi is that sometimes it says something about being an anime nerd that speaks to me, only to just toss that emotion aside and never bring it up again because why bother putting more thought into making it an important part of the narrative when just the feels should be enough? So as you can see, it’s less of an actual nice thing and more of a prime example of how much this show ruins its potential. Everything about it encompasses how much of a lifeless, lazy, industry-ruining shell its creators are, and I could not possibly hate this anime anymore than I already do. Fuck A-1 Pictures. Fuck this insipid, talentless, anti-animation trainwreck of an entity we dare to allow continuing to fuck the medium and breed out a bunch of malformed kids that grew up to kill our dogs and should have been aborted before the first trimester even began!
- Wotakoi: Love is Hard for an Otaku can be streamed on Amazon at this link.
- Kou has got to be the most unattractive/unappealing trap character I have ever seen since that one mini-boss in Yakuza Kiwami.
- I notice that the Saekano sequel never showed up on any top lists last year. Kind of reminds me of how Ni No Kuni 2 quickly faded out of the gaming world despite the initial high acclaim due to its lack of memorability.