Reviewby Carlo Santos, May 8th 2005
DVD 2: The Cicadas of Winter
This series of short stories continues with three new slice-of-life tales. In "The Cicadas of Winter," a struggling actor almost turns his back on his best friend and his wife when he becomes consumed by his career and ego. It takes an unexpected family event to bring some perspective into his life. "The Beautiful Afterimage" tells the story of a university professor who comes to terms with his blue-collar upbringing when his working-class brother asks for a favor. Finally, in "Sidelined," an ambitious newspaper reporter gets transferred to a small town in the countryside to do regional coverage. At first, he considers it an insult to his talent, but when he makes a mess of a critical story, he learns that journalism—and life itself—is more than about being on top.
It's easy to see why Human Crossing doesn't have a strong following of fans. With its episodic short story format, lack of genre gimmicks, and constantly changing characters, it's hard to develop a personal attachment to the series. Where are the ninjas? The giant robots? The cute teenage schoolgirls? How do you cosplay for this show? You call this anime?
It's called honest, straightforward storytelling, and in an artform that often favors style over substance, it's definitely not a bad idea.
There isn't a whole lot in anime that can be compared to Human Crossing. Slice-of-life series do exist, but they're usually thinly disguised harem romps or shoujo melodrama. Human Crossing tackles more mundane affairs, going into the everyday lives of grown-ups rather than volatile youths. This low-key approach leads to plenty of realistic, emotionally complex moments, but it also limits the show's possibilities. Each story is basically about a flawed character experiencing a personal crisis, followed by an epiphany; what changes each time is the type of character and their circumstances. Add to that a leisurely sense of pacing, and the result is a unique, down-to-earth series that's either refreshing or boring, depending on your outlook.
Because of its focus on personal stories, Human Crossing is driven mainly by the characters in each episode. In accordance with the rules of short story writing, each story only introduces a few names, but these characters make it easy to get emotionally attached. Through their straightforward words and actions, we quickly learn about who they really are. Even arrogant, unappealing types like Michio in "The Cicadas of Winter" and Maeda in "Sidelined" eventually show their soft side, proving that everyone has a multifaceted personality. By behaving like real people, these characters come to life in a way that standard anime stereotypes never could.
Despite its devotion to heartfelt storytelling and believable characters, Human Crossing is less focused when it comes to visual style. Although the detailed artwork gives us a realistic portrayal of Japan (even using live-action footage in the openings and endings), the stiff animation often makes the characters look less than human. This is particularly evident in crowd scenes, where people appear to be frozen in time. The character designs fit well with the theme of the series, using correctly proportioned eyes and noses for realism; however, it probably won't appeal to those who like anime for its stylized, dynamic look. Even the camera work takes an ordinary, matter-of-fact approach—the emphasis on static, straight-ahead shots makes each scene feel heavier, adding to the emotional impact of the show.
Human Crossing is a rather quiet series, employing music only occasionally to enhance important scenes. Relying mainly on solo piano and small groups of instruments, the background music is just as relaxed and down-to-earth as the series itself. Only the orchestral swells in the final scene of "The Cicadas of Winter" go beyond the small-scale scoring, and while it's very stirring, it does feel out of place. The slick J-pop tunes that form the opening and ending themes also help to set the mood with their heartfelt lyrics and melody.
For a series that relies so heavily on the human qualities of its characters, nothing kills the mood faster than a lousy dub. This is one series that's best enjoyed in Japanese, as the wooden voice acting in English erases any personality that the characters may have had. Much of it comes from the choppy animation, where the mouth movements force the voice actors into timing their phrases poorly; however, there's also some difficulty with the Japanese names. Despite all of this, the dub script stays pretty close to the translation, although it doesn't change the fact that it's an ordeal to listen to.
Human Crossing does what few other anime series dare to try: it tells real stories about real people, focusing on experiences that could happen to your relatives, your friends, or even yourself. The third-rate animation and repetitive plot structure make it far from perfect, but it's still able to pull a few heartstrings along the way. Ninjas and robots and schoolyard adventures will always be fandom favorites, but for a fresh approach that's about genuine emotion rather than selling merchandise, Human Crossing fits the bill.
Overall (dub) : C-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B+
Animation : C-
Art : B
Music : B
+ Honest storytelling about real people and real lives.
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