This is review number four hundred and fourteen. This anime is part of the Fall 2014 lineup, and it’s called Donten ni Warau or Laughing Under the Clouds. It’s a twelve episode anime about some hot people or something. Let’s read on.
The anime follows a group of hot people trying to stop the rebirth of Orochi. As they try to find his vessel, the various people involved with Orochi also have their own troubles as well. Clashing ideals, political unrest and the strength of relationships soon factors in as a monster that plans to destroy the world attempts his revival.
Taking the Pants Off
This anime is bad. That’s how I want to start this review. A lot of people like it though, but it’s a bad anime. There are a lot of badly executed elements here, and I zoned out for a lot of the episodes. The sad part is that the story and the characters look compelling. They look fun and engaging, and the setting gives the show a lot of chances to really shine. The anime had tremendous potential, and that’s the part I hate about it. The show had no idea how to properly give us a satisfying story with what it got. I’m sure a lot of people will enjoy the strong case of bishie-ness in this anime, and that’s really the only good thing about this show. The characters look hot, and the constant close ups to their well-defined faces basically becomes the best experience you can have in the show. I have no problem with a show oozing bishie goodness, since I like Hakkenden for that sole reason, but I just can’t forgive a show that wastes its potential. This anime doesn’t know how to develop itself, so it ends up becoming a very unsatisfying show. It’s disappointing given how the premise is solid enough by itself.
This anime is about three brothers that live in a shrine. They are the cloud brothers, and they transport criminals to a floating prison in the middle of Lake Biwa. In the age where Japan has opened itself to the world, the sudden change happening in the country is not being well received by every citizen of Japan. After a wide ban of swords, and the noble samurai losing their social standing, the crime rate in the country soars. Meanwhile, a bigger change is coming when the dreaded Orochi is making his impending comeback to Earth. He plans on destroying the world, and people entrusted to eliminate Orochi are gearing up for his eventual return. The premise of the anime is complex. It has a lot of moving elements, and it has a lot of plot points to develop. The premise sounds amazing though, since the complexity actually comes off as inviting. A historical anime with fantasy elements simmering in a stew if bishie goodness? That sounds amazing, One problem though, this anime is running on autopilot.
Autopilot storytelling is where the anime just runs down a list of events without giving much care to how it happens. The move from point A to point B to point C is underwhelming, since the show didn’t build up to it. Instead, the anime just features an important event then goes to the next without any care or reason. A good example of an anime on autopilot is Mahou Sensou. A story about a magic war rushes to its ending without any care, and it leaves the characters and the themes grossly underdeveloped leading to a really bad anime experience. Another good example is Psychic Detective Yakumo. The story of a guy that solves supernatural murders proceeds with very little care, and the endearing relationship he has with the lead girl becomes contrived and cheesy. Autopilot storytelling is still a coherent storytelling, but it misses a lot of important elements that completes an anime experience. After all, a plane on autopilot still reaches its destination but you don’t really praise the autopilot for doing its job. The same goes for autopilot storytelling. As long as we reach the end goal, then you can’t really complain. Oh, but I have complaints, and I have a lot of them. In fact, I’d be listing them down below.
Traits of an Autopilot: Rushed Pacing
Firstly, a story on autopilot is incredibly rushed. After all, the show is only concerned about moving from one important event to another. In this anime, the status quo never settles because a lot of stuff happens one after the other. It’s said that the brothers row a boat to deliver criminals to the prison in the lake, yet we never see them do their job. We only see it once in the first episode, and the story immediately shifts by focusing on the littlest brother being in love with his elementary teacher. Why is it so important to introduce the teacher at this point of the story? A bunch of siblings transporting criminals to a prison sounds like a fun premise by itself. We never focus on it though, and we never see that brought up again. Instead, we are introduced to the teacher which establishes a new plot point: Orochi, a giant ass snake monster, apparently coming back through a vessel. Ah, so we’ll be searching for the vessel now, right? We’ll devote time on why Orochi coming back is a big deal, and the destruction he’ll cause is something meant to be stopped, right?
Nope. Ninjas next, and then handsome police people, and then big brother apparently carrying the burden of some kind that he can’t share to his younger brothers, and then second brother going emo because eldest brother is a jackass. All of these events happened in the first three episodes of the anime. They aren’t “established” in the first three episodes. They “happened”, and some of them are barely brought up again. The stuff about the ninja is hurriedly transformed into a focus on one ninja clan before we hit episode six. The big brother plot point transformed into a story about his selflessness (and selfishness) before episode five, and the second brother going emo transforms into his unhealthy obsession before episode five as well. The plot points are incredibly rushed, nothing is developed, and all of this clusterfudge happens in the first six episodes alone. I mean, everything that happened in the first half can easily consume twelve episodes or more. Instead, things just run on auto-pilot and plot points happen randomly. All of these plot points are pretty great by themselves as well, but there was no focus. One thing just happen, we focus on it, and then another thing happens. For example, eldest brother has a relationship with the government soldiers but we suddenly see second oldest grow annoyed at the distance between him and the oldest, and before any of those plot points can blossom, we suddenly discover there is opium in the floating prison.
Woah there, give us a chance to process everything that’s happening. Ok, so, everyone is handsome, huh?
Traits of an Autopilot: Undeveloped Characters
Of course, when the story is rushed going from one point to another, the characters will be affected the most by it. The problem with autopilot storytelling is that these characters are needed to the big moment the show rushed into. So when a moment calls for an emotional element for the characters, then they’d act emotional. The problem is that these characters are often “just three brothers apparently rowing people to prison”, so you’re not invested in anything happening in the moment. Why should I care about the characters when I don’t know any of them? The anime didn’t give us a chance to really connect with the characters, and it affects the overall experience. When the second oldest goes emo about not being as strong as his older brother, it just comes off as a one dimensional character whining for no reason. Why does he feel he needs to be as strong as his brother? We never really find out, because character development is sacrificed tremendously when a story goes on autopilot. But they need these characters to deliver the sad moment, and the characters will cry and feel sad, but the audience will have no part in it. You’re just watching things happen, so the world could blow up and it wouldn’t matter.
The annoying part is that we do have compelling characters in here. A little bit of fleshing out, and the emotional weight of the show could rival Uchouten Kazoku if the anime really tried. It’s not that big of a change though. Just a few more lines to improve the characters, a few more exposition to make them endearing and some ample time to let the status quo settle, and you’d get amazing characters. Again, I was introduced to the cloud brothers as nothing more than people that row boats. I was never convinced that they’d grow beyond that. A lot of the characters had an interesting background to them, and yet you really just see them as extremely hot people that don’t blink for some reason. I wanted to love them as well. We have a big brother smiling through the pain of his past and his responsibilities, we have a guy raised to be “bait” and is destined to die to fulfill his duties, we have a girl torn between her clan and her humanity, and we even got a really cute love story here spanning three hundred years. These are great characters, but they are horribly underdeveloped. There was even a point where different character ideals clash, and yet you just can’t be convinced because the characters aren’t ready for any emotional conflict yet. They aren’t fully conceived characters yet, and you see the show slowly grind them down with no care at all. It’s really annoying.
Traits of an Autopilot: A Clusterf*ck of Themes
You know what’s even more annoying than mishandled characters? It’s a mishandled execution of a complex premise. With how the show just shuffles from one event to another, a lot of the themes never get a chance to truly blossom. We started with a political theme as the show mentions Japan opening up to the world and a big prison employed to control the chaos within. In episode two though, the theme of family is suddenly introduced as we see big brother smile through all his problems. By episode three, there is a theme of betrayal and selfishness. Episode four had a theme of duty and devotion, and so on and so on. This is an episodic show, so there is an overall story yet it’s constantly being pulled from one theme to the next. Since events are given no time to build up and characters aren’t given time to develop, the themes are often just lost in the shuffle. Sometimes, the impact of a theme doesn’t matter because you’d be bored out of your mind because the show can’t seem to decide on what it wants to be. Is it an action adventure with political undertones? Is it about family togetherness and bonds between people? Is it about evil corrupting the pure? Is it your typical bishie romp? Is it all of them? Why is it so hard to execute these seemingly simple concepts?!
As I watch the anime, I actually feel bad for the original source. I mean, gawd, this adaptation is awful. Animation and the autopilot storytelling aside, the underwhelming feeling of the show is just so soul crushing. Did the manga really deserve such a low quality adaptation? What about the author’s intention? What about the nuance and grace of the original source? Why is there no care given to this adaptation? Well, I decided to compare the anime to the source. I want to realize where the anime truly f*cked up. I want more ammunition to really tear into this boring stew of bishie goodness. As a guy that believes an adaptation should always respect the original source, I want to really sh*t all over this anime. And, yeah, we have a slight problem here…..
A Faithful Adaptation
This anime is very close to the original source. It means that the manga itself is rushed, underdeveloped and completely underwhelming. Karakara Kemuri (the author) is an incredible illustrator, but she does not know how to tell a story. She often just focuses on making the characters look cool on a panel, but to the detriment of the plot. The manga also ran for a staggeringly short six volumes, so there’s not a lot to work with. As I read the manga, I realize the anime is pretty faithful to it. Just like the author’s vision, the anime puts great focus on the characters looking handsome and nothing more. I always believe that a great anime adaptation captures the original source to a tee, and up to the point where the weakness of the manga is also embodied in the adaptation. When people claimed Your Lie in April had some unnecessary parts, that were all the original source’s fault. The same can be said with this anime. The almost laughable approach at storytelling is completely the author’s fault. She can draw, like a f*cking master, but she is no mangaka. She is an illustrator, and nothing more. I spent a day reading the manga (and it hurts), so I’ll be talking lengthily about the manga for now.
As I said, the anime captured the original source to a tee. It left out some important parts though, like explaining that the Orochi’s vessel can only appear on the group that opposes it. So the cloud brothers, the handsome police and anyone else trying to destroy the Orochi can be his vessel. It’s a minor detail, but it does completely change the tone of the story. It’s a shame the author can’t develop it herself. She focuses more on the visuals, and she seems to shy away from cluttering her panels with words or any kind of exposition. That’s fine, let the images speak for themselves but the problem is that 25% of the panels are establishing shots and almost 60% of it are large illustrations of the characters whether it’d be a close up or a full body composition highlighting their sexy sexy sexy body. It’s incredible amateurish, to be honest. Karakara Kemuki seems to have a very precise style, but I keep being reminded of Yuki Midorikawa’s (the author of Natsume Yuujinchou) unique style as well. It’s no surprise, since both their works are published in a Shoujo publication. The comparison works against Karakara Kemuki though, because Yuki Midorikawa can make you feel intense emotions in 50 pages or less. Karakara Kemuki can’t do the same in six volumes. It’s laughable, and a bit sad. Is this the best she can do? Because it’s not really good.
She’s an amazing illustrator though. I’m not trying to argue that, and I apologize to anyone that likes her work. I’m just not impressed with Donten ni Warau, and I’ve seen graceful manga come to life in a moving medium. I find it insulting that an unremarkable manga like this got an adaptation while incredibly better mangaka are often refused of the same glory. This does bring up an interesting question though, and it’s beyond existential for me.
As a reviewer, do you praise the anime for being faithful to the manga, even though the content is absolutely awful? Do we blame the anime for the shortcomings of the manga? If you do believe the manga is not good, yet the anime is still able to capture the vision and the nuance of the original source, then is the anime bad or good? Seriously, I don’t know what to do.
The Gentleness of the Original Source
I’d say the anime and the manga is on par. In terms of content, they both kinda suck. I’d say the anime has an edge because the characters have voices, and the visual heavy presentation of the author is showcased tremendously. The manga has a greater edge though, in my humble opinion, because you can control the pace of the manga on your own. Even though it’s an underwhelming mess, you can still enjoy the author’s graceful strokes while you consider she wasted too much space for one handsome character. There is also one element in the anime that worked better in the manga: the romance and the bro-mance. There is a very cute side romance in the story about two people that is destined to not be together. It’s underdeveloped as you can expect, but the author’s illustrations do add some needed punch when the characters embrace or show gentle emotions. Her female characters have a certain vulnerability to them that does attract your eyes, and seeing them express any kind of emotion is endearing to witness. It happened in the anime too, by the way, but it’s just done better in the manga.
The same goes for the massive bromance moments in the anime. It was better in the manga, just for the author’s illustrations. The big brother had this weird thing going on with the leader of the Yamainu, and the subtle bromance between the two is delivered much better in the manga. It’s a very minor thing though, and it barely affects the overall enjoyment. It’s there though, and it’s better in the manga. Since you can control the pace, you can feel the sting of big brother’s decision over the people he abandons. You can also feel their longing and their wanting, which is so shoujo, and it does make the manga better. The anime had some awkward executions, and the directionless story added greatly to that. The illustrations make up for it though, since I’m more sympathetic to Shirasu because of it. His relationship with the big brother is better handled as well. While still hugely underdeveloped, and it’s entirely the author’s fault, the manga still had more than the adaptation. It’s very little and almost unnoticeable though.
Hiroshi and Doga Kobo
Doga Kobo is a pretty great studio. They don’t make hard hitters, but I personally enjoy a lot of their works. There is this endearing charm to their work, and I guess its present in this anime as well. They did a faithful adaptation, so I’ll give them points for that. They also gave us Mikakunin de Shinkoukei and Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki, which are two of my favorite shows in 2014. As I look up their works, Umaru-chan is still staring at me wondering when I’ll watch it. I’m close to finally watching that show, and maybe I’ll start Winter 2015 with that one. Doga Kobo does have their low moments, and it’s usually when they try bishie driven shows. I remember their Devil and Realist, and even Natsuyuki Rendezvous, coming out just as awkward and ill-conceived as this anime. Doga Kobo shines when they do solid works like Love Lab, so they should just focus on their strong stuff. Leave the bishie driven shows to the side for now. Hiroshi Haraguchi directed this anime, and he does little work. Aside from directing two movies, he mostly does storyboard for a short list of shows. Judging by this anime alone, I do think he has some solid talent. The anime is a faithful adaptation as it captures panels of the original source. The animation had some rough patches, but it’s still close to the original. I do wonder though if a director has the authority to add to the original source, or is better just to adapt as is since the manga does have an established fan base? The manga needed a lot of help, and I do think some cool stylistic choices on the anime’s side could’ve improved the story. I don’t think that’s allowed though, but I’m not sure. Moryou no Hako’s director added his own plot point to help develop one part of the novel, but this kind of direct altering is rare though.
Sight and Sound
In terms of design, Karakara Kirameki is amazing. She knows how to do handsome characters BUT I hate the cloud brothers. They are over designed, so they stand out in the worst way possible. This is a period piece, so I’ll accept the handsome police people having bright colored uniforms. A guy with a short sleeved kimono, with red lining and off putting black and red colors, ruins the period piece motif for me though. The little brother annoys me the most, since he has this big hat that looks so out of place. I’m not sure if it was intentional, but if you’re going overboard with the design then why stop at the brothers? Why not go and make everyone needlessly cool just to achieve balance with the visuals? In terms of proportions and details though, then the design is pretty solid. Her facial designs are incredible as well, and you often just stare at a face that consumes too much of one panel. She just really lacks the ability to pace a story, and she relies too much on her artwork. But what do I know, really?
Animation is…fine. Since the manga itself is pretty awful, in terms of pacing the action and the story itself, the animation does capture the beauty of the artworks but also heavily features the author’s inability to really create great storytelling. The animation is able to capture the complex camera angles of the manga, and a lot of the panels are even featured one after the other in all their glorious detail. But since the manga itself lacks psychology in its fight scenes, then the anime just features aimless fighting and unsatisfying settings that lead nowhere. The anime also captured how dead eye the characters are in the manga. A lot of Karakara Kimeki’s characters have simple eyes, and it looks great in print form, but they look horrendous in a moving medium. It completes the character though, and it’s part of the author’s style, so the anime did faithfully adapt it. Holy sh*t, it looks awful. Since a lot of scenes are also various close ups of the characters, then the lack of emotions in the eyes are heavily exposed. It looks really bad. The lack of focus on the period piece aspect of the story was also a big disadvantage for the manga, since the backgrounds are really boring. The author didn’t care for world building, so the anime did the same. It results in soul-less backgrounds, and boring sceneries. Sure, we have a prison floating in a lake, but it doesn’t really look impressive. It’s just a prison, and nothing more.
The anime has two OP. The first OP is “Biran no Kaze” by Ryuuji Aoki. The song had some cool lyrics about firing an arrow in the sky, and other prophetic stuff like that. It’s too much for me, but I do like Ryuuji’s voice. Coupled with those rock heavy instrumentals, this OP is pretty great. He goes wild with his vocals, and the instrumentals do keep outmatching him. The OP sequence features all the characters looking handsome. The plot is minimal, and it just gives us the hot characters just standing there and stuff. It also has a lot of close ups for an OP sequence. I do like the transitions, but it does feel empty when you watch it, since it’s not really saying anything. It’s just a montage of handsome faces. The second OP is “Ryuuten no Hi” by Ryuuji Aoki. It has the same tone and theme as the first song, but it just has a more foreboding presence to it. The anime did build up to a climax in the second half, so a change in the OP is a nice touch. They didn’t change the OP sequence though. They just added some more characters in it, and that’s a little bit lazy. It’s a decent OP song though, and Ryuuji’s voice is still fantastic.
The anime’s ED is “ATTITUDE TO LIFE” by Galneryus. This one had some nice lyrics about someone telling the other person that they love him. It reminds me of the love story between the familiar and the Orochi bait’s love story itself. Aside from the strong lyrics, the singer’s voice is also amazing. He carries the song with his deep voice and you’ll often just feel enchanted listening to it. The ED sequence features the characters in a stylistic ukiyo-e style artwork just panning to the right. It’s a cool ED, since it gives a nod to the time period of the anime. I believe the ED also ends on different images depending on the characters focused in the episode.
4/10 “I ask again, if the original source is unsatisfying, and the adaptation captured that unsatisfying element, is the anime good for being faithful to the original source or is it bad for the unsatisfying experience that traces back to the original?”
In conclusion, both the manga and the anime are unsatisfying and wholly disappointing. Watch the anime to see how awful the manga is, and read the manga to see the stuff the anime overlooked. Either way, they both suck. The story is on autopilot, the characters are underdeveloped, the action is lacking, the tension is numb, the romance is awkward, the pacing is rushed and the entire experience is detached and boring. The visuals are strong though, so that’s at least one good thing about Donten ni Warau. It’s a fascinating phenomenon that I’ll be reflecting on in my 1000 journey, but I do wholeheartedly do not recommend this.