Review/discussion about: Aoharu x Kikanjuu
I have never shot a gun. I have held my uncle’s small pistol, though. He carries it around for self-defense purposes. He let me hold the weapon during a birthday party for one of my relatives, and I, rather stupidly, raised the gun up instead of aiming it downwards. Everyone was quick to yell at me and for good reason. Guns are dangerous. We watch action flicks, we play first-person shooters, and we read jokes about weapons, desensitizing us to their power. It is not until one is wielded that someone truly understands what it is that he or she is holding.
Before real guns, there are the imitations, usually called BB guns. They shoot pellets, not bullets, but they are still dangerous and, for some, as fun as the real thing. Aoharu x Kikanjuu is filled to the brim with guns of this type and the survival games that incorporate their use. Although the guns are not actually the focus. They are the setting for the anime but not what the anime wants to talk about. Instead, the show concerns itself with heavier dilemmas. Deceit, rejection, and perseverance which, coincidentally enough, each occur in the very games the show shows.
My earlier recollection was sort of misleading. I have used a paintball gun before, during a friend’s birthday. I was there with a bunch of other friends. I had on the goggles, the camo gear, and the big boots. Running around the obstacles and pretending as if I was in a real warzone was fun. Then I got hit with a paintball. And it hurt. A lot. I remember the stinging, despite the layers of clothes I had on, and the welt afterwards. Though if I had a choice between getting hit with another paintball and watching Aoharu x Kikanjuu again, I would brace myself for the stinging.
Where to even begin?
Aoharu x Kikanjuu is a drama. Ironically, that is one of the anime’s biggest problems. The setting and subject matter, while filled with adrenaline, is not an intense pastime. It is not supposed to be taken extremely seriously. But the anime refuses to follow this sentiment. Instead, the show takes this fun and nonlethal activity and turns it into the most over-the-top and overly dramatized piece. The show always showcases the events, such as the main competition or a duel in the woods, as life-or-death scenarios, contrasting too heavily with the fun hobby that the characters partake in. The anime tries so hard to be dramatic but because the subject matter is not as emotionally-driven as it believes itself to be, the result is the feeling that something is off. That something is just not working.
This feeling persists throughout the entire season because Aoharu x Kikanjuu almost exclusively focuses on drama. Said drama permeates everything; whether it is Matsuoka pushing Tachibana out of a door or Yukimura arguing with Matsuoka, the anime always grossly dramatizes whatever happens to exist on screen. Comedic bits exist, but these moments are quick interjections rather than a focal point. The comedy works better than the drama, but since the drama comes off as awkward, the comedy is unable to act as the buffer it was designed to be. Thus, instead of resting alongside the drama, the comedy is jarring, breaking what was already hurting.
But the drama being as ineffective as it is does not explain why the drama itself turns out that way. So, what is causing the show to, figuratively speaking, shoot itself in the foot? This leads into the second problem: the monologues. The plurality is slightly misleading; there are more monologues in Aoharu x Kikanjuu than there are guns in the anime. That is a lot of time spent on monologues. Yet, again, monologues on their own are not inherently negative. In fact, monologues are often nice ways of conveying the inner thoughts of a character that might normally be impossible to hear. Aoharu x Kikanjuu, however, does not use monologues of this kind regularly. Instead, the anime opts for the messiest options. Tachibana will commentate on the most obvious of happenings. She might raise questions that the audience is already pondering. Or she may recount, word for word, what she is about to do or what someone else has done or felt. In short, the anime does the complete opposite of the “show; don’t tell” philosophy by constantly telling everything that is going on, at all times. This stream of monologues is not only relegated to Tachibana. Matsuoka, Yukimura, and even some of the unimportant side characters frequently describe exactly what is going on around them, to the point that the audience would not even have to be watching the anime in order to understand what is occurring on-screen.
The third problem also explains why the heavy drama never seems to act as intended. Flashbacks are rampant throughout the season. Much like the monologues, flashbacks on their own are not an issue. They are used to reveal the pasts of characters to develop said characters or to present events outside of a chronological order. That is to say, flashbacks, when used correctly, serve a wonderful purpose. Aoharu x Kikanjuu does not use flashbacks correctly. Instead, almost every single flashback is used to recount a specific moment from the season. A character said that one thing? Flashback. Someone is trying to remember what happened during the match? Flashback. Currently in a battle? Flashback. There are some nice uses of flashbacks within the anime – Tachibana’s best friend has a flashback that encourages Tachibana to move forward and Matsuoka’s character is largely developed through flashback. But the vast majority of the flashbacks exist as nothing more than unnecessary interjections that chop up the events portrayed and, subsequently, prevents the drama from being as emotional as it wants to be.
Arguably one of the most important plot points – the reason for the disbandment of “Toy Gun Gun” – is based on a flashback. More specifically, it is initially given as a false flashback. Lying is a staple theme in Aoharu x Kikanjuu, evidenced by Tachibana’s gender-hiding ruse. Her lie shapes the way the plot progresses. She is let onto the team because she lied, she is motivated by the original lie, and she loses the main tournament because of her lie. Her lie is a white lie but it permeates the anime from start to finish.
Therefore, it is not inconceivable to assume that the show handles this theme appropriately, but the fourth problem is encountered instead. Aoharu x Kikanjuu strangely concludes without Tachibana coming clean. A lot of fuss about her predicament is brought up as the show nears its end. It seems as if the anime is going to reach the type of resolution befitting the show’s own ideas. But no. The anime elects to keep the lying. Despite Yukimura explaining what really went down years ago. Despite the enemy not revealing her secret so that she could tell them herself. Despite the countless opportunities she had to tell her comrades and friends the truth. The anime ends with the group determined and closer than ever, yet Tachibana’s lie still persists, making the whole lying concept more of an aside rather than the important motif it was meant to be.
Why is it that Aoharu x Kikanjuu does not bring closure to its theme? The main reason is to leave it up in the air as a possible point of contention in a continuation. This, quite frankly, is cheap. Her lie is a major plot point that is leaned on constantly throughout the season but is ultimately quasi-closed – Tachibana is hopeful that a future chance will arrive for her to finally reveal who she really is, but the audience never sees said chance. This highlights the fifth and final problem of Aoharu x Kikanjuu’s narrative: the inept handling of specific scenes. The ending is only the beginning.
Another weird moment is when the anime emphasizes a seemingly important character at the café Tachibana, Midori, and Fujimon visit. His face glowers at the mention of “Toy Gun Gun” because he is, presumably, the second member to have voluntarily left the group (before Tachibana and after the first girl). But nothing ever happens with this man. He does not show up again let alone has a role in the narrative. Another example is the main tournament, TGC. There is a ton of build-up to the tournament, such as its purpose, its meaning, and so on. Furthermore, most shows would have the two rivals square off at or near the end in order to build even more tension. But in Aoharu x Kikanjuu, the battle happens in the very first round. The audience does not get to the see the TGC event at all, reducing the overall amount of gunplay shown and the overall amount of tension. Then, when Tachibana, Matsuoka, and Yukimura lose, the anime skips ahead, ruining the pacing that had already been established. These two examples are the most egregious in terms of breaking the narrative, but there are other examples. The ridiculous gun duel at Matsuoka’s place of work and Tachibana walking into a hospital with a large black bag that contained her (fake) gun are more instances where the anime simply does not make sense.
Five major problems in total for Aoharu x Kikanjuu’s narrative. As they say, fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me five times…that is just unacceptable.
Without a doubt, Aoharu x Kikanjuu’s strongest facet is the art and the animation that it contains.
The art especially has an elevated amount of quality. Forested areas are rife with detail, as are the apartments of the characters and the city areas they visit – the gun shop, a café, and so on. Contrary to the drama’s execution in the narrative, the drama further boosts the art. Sinister depictions of elite gun wielders, shifted camera placements for demented shots, and fluffy edges for the flashback sequences are varied ways in which the anime diversifies its artistic direction. Other examples, such as special particle effects for pellets hitting targets and the menacing eyes and smiles of the characters, further demonstrate how dedicated Aoharu x Kikanjuu is to making its art as dramatic as possible.
Actual animation can be hit or miss, but for the most part the anime manages to, once again, use a lot of tricks that make its animation more involved than it otherwise should be. One of the more intricate scenes is when Midori outs Tachibana to confuse her temporarily. When Tachibana gets shot in the head, the anime goes into slow-motion. While slow-motion animation is common, the environment was currently in a thunderstorm, meaning the rain droplets slowed down as well. The rain helps to accentuate the slow-motion, even more so when this effect is used for only a few seconds – everything is normally animated, the slow-motion is used, then the show snaps back to its normal animation. A sequence like this is rarer, though. Tachibana jumping off of a mini-gun or her flying through the air while shooting her own weapon are nice to see but the anime, due to the constant stream of monologues, has a lot of characters standing around and talking, either to themselves or to the person next to them.
Still, the extent of the actual animation is nothing to scoff at. Despite the more animation-intensive moments being the exception, the anime has its cast running around shooting their guns quite a bit. Not every episode has them taking part in a battle, but enough are present to make the anime feel as if it is focusing on the gunplay. Besides the running and the shooting, characters also have hair, limb, eye, and mouth movements during the season that equate to a higher amount of actual animation and subsequently better overall execution.
The character designs are the only section of the art and animation that are not as grand. Tachibana, while androgynous in her depiction, is a bit too plain. Beige hair, green eyes, and constant school uniform make her out to have quite the dull design. Matsuoka is handsome, with his spiky blonde hair and pretty face, but this side of him only really comes out when he is on the job. If anyone, though, has an argument for their design, it would be Yukimura. His glasses, black and frazzled hair, and long-sleeved sweater paint him as the recluse that he is. To be fair, when the characters are participating in their survival games, their designs change. Jackets, scarves, and hats replace their regular attire to help the audience understand the transition from normal to game life. These, at the very least, demonstrate that the anime put some thought into the designs of the cast.
Of course, this is technically a realistic setting, so having wacky character designs would go against said realism. However, the lack of aesthetic appeal in the designs does little to improve the impact of the cast, consequently reducing the effectiveness of the drama and therefore the execution of the anime.
For Aoharu x Kikanjuu, the cast once again misses the target so much one would not be mistaken in thinking that this was not an anime about shooting guns.
The first oddity is the anime’s fixation on obsession. Not with the guns but with the people. Yukimura, Fujimon, and Ichi each have an unhealthy obsession with the leader of their group, Matsuoka for the former and Midori for the latter two. Fujimon’s is based on a masochistic fetish and Ichi has romantic feelings for Midori. Characterizations, but they are unfounded. Both Fujimon and Ichi never have their backgrounds explored, their infatuation with Midori less a cute connection and more a weird relationship. Yukimura fares slightly better; in the past, he was betrayed by people he thought he could call friends. The only person to stand up for Yukimura was none other than Matsuoka. Yukimura still turns into the loner he is, though. He secludes himself, focusing on his (perverted) work, himself, and, most important to him, Matsuoka, the only friend he could truly call his friend. Thus, his obsession with Matsuoka, while still a bit strange, has some sort of reasoning behind it.
But that is the extent of Yukimura’s character. Outside of this beginning revelation, he contributes little else besides the occasional perverted joke or plea for help. This affects all of the characters – nobody seems to have “enough” about them. Matsuoka is known as a swinger of sorts. It is not until the final episode that the audience learns of his fear of rejection. That is why he works as a swinger; surrounding himself with other people compensates for the hole he has in his heart. That is quite the nice character trait in terms of writing. Yet, similar and opposite to Yukimura, this trait is revealed once at the conclusion. Having his last few lines about his person at the end are fine, it is Aoharu x Kikanjuu never hinting at such a deeply troubling issue – at all – throughout the season that comes off as sloppy. As if the anime had forgotten to make his character relevant during the season until it was too little, too late.
Midori, unlike both Yukimura and Matsuoka, has a bit more going for him. By day, Midori is a doctor, saving the lives of the people who visit him. By night, Midori reveals his true personality, that of a deranged and psychotic sadist who relishes in the pain of the enemies he “kills” during the survival game matches. He is two-faced, but he understands how to separate his one life from the other. Midori is arrogant, cocky, and manipulative, all of the makings of an evil villain. Though he is not all evil; he guides Tachibana towards fixing her relationship with Matsuoka and, while his crazy actions are in fact insane, his feud with Matsuoka is not entirely his fault. In this way, he is to some degree a complex character.
Tachibana is somewhat similar in the sense that she, too, is two-faced. This obviously applies to her gender reversal. She is a girl who acts and looks like a boy, but she is not so much acting as she is just extremely tomboyish. But this also applies to her main characteristic: a passion for justice. Tachibana has an immense sense of duty. She feels it is her responsibility to quell the bad in the world and to let the good rise to the top. Or so it appears. The “justice” she often invokes is a negative force that consumes her completely to the point that she becomes the very evil she seeks to quash. That is, it is revenge, not justice, that she pursues. Her lying about herself is also not the most justice-esque move one can do, meaning no matter how much good she fights for, her hypocritical nature contrasts harshly with her known behavior.
For both Midori and Tachibana, there is “more than meets the eye”, but there is simultaneously nothing else for the eye to meet. The development they receive, especially in Tachibana’s case, is nonexistent. Midori remains more or less the same, conniving man as when he is first introduced, and Tachibana, due to the story’s stalling, never goes through her full arc. She stumbles along the way with the guns and her own determination, but those are dips in the growth graph as opposed to recognizable turning points. Matsuoka and Yukimura already have shown their own incompetence as characters. Adding Midori and Tachibana, the main antagonist and the main protagonist, respectively, into the same category only serves to make the whole of the cast an underwhelming offering.
Looking at the separate pairings more closely, a pattern of parallelism begins to emerge. The composition of their groups mirror one another – two guys and one girl – as do the personalities of the people that make up said group – someone obsessed with the leader, a situational lunatic, etcetera. And most important of all, they all share the same passion: survival games. The two groups share a lot of similarities, yet there is a clear distinction between them: one is more successful over the other. Midori and his group have continually won the main survival game event for the past few years, indicating the closeness of their group and the power of their collective abilities. Matsuoka and his group, in contrast, have continually lost each year. Worse still, each time they lose they lose a member. It is three-fold: Yukimura’s abrasiveness towards others, Matsuoka’s own insecurities, and Matsuoka’s rivalry with Midori drive the third teammate away. Matsuoka’s group is never cohesive and always broken. The bonds they share with each other are not taut in the slightest. This is why he and his team fail whereas Midori and his team manage to win. Midori, Fujimon, and Ichi trust one another completely. “Toy Gun Gun” does not. Yukimura did not trust Tachibana with their storied past. Tachibana did not trust in Matsuoka’s leadership. And Matsuoka did not trust himself to keep both Yukimura and Tachibana loving the game that he himself had come to love so much.
Now, this all sounds nice on paper, but the execution is a different matter. Even disregarding the lack of depth for Fujimon’s and Ichi’s characters, Aoharu x Kikanjuu does not make this comparison explicit. Individually the cast is placed side-by-side at times, but without the anime increasing the scope of its comparisons, the parallelism it was seemingly shooting for is lost. Furthermore, while the exploration of the relationships between Matsuoka, Yukimura, and Tachibana exist, the same cannot be said for Midori and his friends. Despite how much Midori, Fujimon, and Ichi succeed together, the anime rarely shows how close they are to one another. In fact, Midori takes advantage of Fujimon’s kindness and Ichi treats Fujimon with disrespect, as if their “friendship” is anything but. Meaning, the parallelism is not lost because it never existed in the first place.
In the end, the cast of Aoharu x Kikanjuu is difficult to justify. Yukimura, Ichi, and Fujimon are clearly lacking strength, Matsuoka’s character is poorly handled, and both Midori and Tachibana, while characterized well, needed more throughout the season. And even though parallelism can be found, it definitely is not working as intended.
The opening theme for Aoharu x Kikanjuu is rather upbeat, contrasting harshly with the anime’s dramatic mood. Surprisingly, the song is not overbearing due to the mellowness of the singing, once again going against the show’s usual overbearing drama. Still, the song can instill that feeling of longing, coinciding with Matsuoka’s, Yukimura’s, and Tachibana’s own longing for one another. A nice touch is the combination of vocalists that get all three involved in the piece which works well with the guitar and drum beats. Catchiness does not find a home in the first half but it does find one in the second half, making the OP an overall solid offering.
The same cannot be said for the main ending theme. The ED is a smattering of noise, caused by the erratic lyrics, the tonal shifts, and the likeness in instruments to the OP. Vocal-wise, there is not enough power to match the piece’s sense of regret and eventual triumph, resulting in a dissonance between what is heard and what is felt by the audience. At the minimum, the ED at least contrasts nicely with the OP, providing a wider range of feelings – regardless of how expertly they were incorporated – for the audience to experience.
Voice acting is by far the best part of the sound-work within Aoharu x Kikanjuu, although not everyone gives a grand performance. Mikako Komatsu as Tachibana uses a voice that walks the line between male and female, a perfect fit for the tomboy. Yoshitsugu Matsuoka as Yukimura demonstrates his chops once more with a reserved and higher-pitched voice to match the recluse and slightly effeminate dude. Tomoaki Maeno as Matsuoka has his moments, such as when Midori confronts him at TGC or is ashamed of his decision-making skills, but otherwise he provides an average performance. The same can be said for Kazuyuki Okitsu as Midori; he has the “holier than thou” way of speaking but does not particularly stick out from the crowd, lessening his role as the main bad guy. Finally, Ryouhei Kimura as Fujimon also deserves a shout-out for his subservient way of speaking when referring to Midori.
As for the remainder of the soundtrack, the OST is another step down. Jazzy ensembles with blaring trumpets are used for the explanatory moments. Acoustic strings for the uplifting ones. Eerie tones that make the sadder scenes that much more painful. Standard fare for many an anime. Aoharu x Kikanjuu also includes an extra ED – played precisely once, at the end of the eighth episode – that is decidedly darker than both the OP and the main ED, fitting snuggly within Aoharu x Kikanjuu’s plotline at that time. And there are, of course, more emotional pieces, such as laidback piano tracks and reminiscing violin ones, all of which aim to achieve the same kind of emotion that the anime sought.
Unfortunately, these more emotional pieces follow the show’s execution of its drama, being incapable of invoking the kinds of responses necessary for the scenarios they surround. And no matter which track is listened to, they are highly forgettable. This, combined with the fact that the most important tracks are not as impactful as they need to be, makes the OST lackluster.
There was exactly one – one – instance in the anime where I derived satisfaction: the scene following Tachibana and Kanae’s “race.” She acts like an awesome friend, a heartfelt message is given, and, best of all, a romance-oriented joke is had. Before and after this scene, I dreaded watching this show.
I hated Tachibana’s persona. I did not much care for her sense of justice and her constant whining. I especially loathed her when she went psycho. It was a combination of the animation, art, and lame way she acted while going berserk. I could not take her seriously when she acted normally, so when she turned into somebody that was even more annoying than she was, I could not stand having or listening to her on-screen.
The actual survival game sequences were boring. I did not find it fun to watch Tachibana or anyone else run around walls, a few metal barrels, and a heaping of foliage just so they could shoot a few BBs that sometimes found their target and sometimes not. For me, watching gun duels is just not exciting. It is a lot of sitting, stalking, and waiting, as opposed to sword duels where swiftness and deftness are valued more. Plus, every move in a sword duel counts. Each move has (literally) more weight. With guns, spraying-and-praying is a way to approach the enemy, one that the anime uses more than a handful of times, and in only a select few instances is hand-to-hand combat relied on. If I was the one doing the firing, then the feeling would most certainly change. But as much as the show tried, I simply could not find entertainment in the survival games they showcased.
That is not the end of the torment for me, though. Midori’s impeccable behavior – where he does everything right and can never do any wrong, no matter what happens – is a character trait that immediately gets on my nerves. All of the monologues were grating quite early on, mostly because the anime simply could did not have the right type and amount of emotion throughout. The ending, where Matsuoka suddenly has feelings for Tachibana but he (understandably) has no idea why, is such a cheap way to try to inject some romance into the anime where none was previously present. These nuances range from minor to major, but since they all occurred within the same anime, they compounded to the point that I could almost not care any less about this show.
Aoharu x Kikanjuu is survival game drama incarnate. Other than the nice animation and art pieces, the story is awful, the characters are a mess, their designs are usually boring, the music is hard on the ears, and the entertainment is nearly nonexistent. On second thought, make that two paintball hits.
Story: Terrible, heavy drama feels unnatural, too many nonsensical internal monologues, misused flashbacks, theme on lying is poorly handled, and specific, inept scenes destroy the narrative
Animation: Good, artistic direction follows the drama, above average actual animation, and a mix of detailed and boring character designs
Characters: Bad, Yukimura, Fujimon, and Ichi are very weak, Matsuoka is handled poorly, Midori and Tachibana are okay, and the parallelism between them all needs more attention
Sound: Bad, okay OP, bad ED, bad OST, okay VA performances
Enjoyment: Terrible, annoying characters, boring action, and other nuances quickly added up to a miserable experience
Final Score: 2/10
Thanks for taking the time to read my review. If you want, take part in the discussion below! :3