The Fall 2014 Anime Preview Guide
Laughing Under the Clouds
Rating: 2 (out of 5)
Laughing Under the Clouds may not have been my favorite first episode this season, but it does have some elements that are intriguing. The story takes place during the Meiji Era, and presumably will have to do with the fact that the old samurai way of life is going the way of the dodo. This means that samurai who refuse to adapt are being branded as criminals and rounded up. They're sent to a very ominous prison across Lake Biwa, and the three Kumoh brothers are in large part responsible for getting them there – Tenka because he generally is called upon by the (apparently incompetent) police to help recapture them after they elude police custody and younger brothers Soramaru and Chutaro because they row the criminals across. (I quite liked that scene, with the rise and fall of the rowboat, but it won't work for everyone.) Tenka is the strongest brother and both Soramaru and Chutaro admire him and aspire to be as strong as he is. Soramaru seems to actually resent his older brother for his prowess, and the episode definitely takes pains to show us that even when Sora's at his best, Tenka's still far better.
While there is clearly something going on over at the Meiji Era's Arkham Asylum – that was very bluntly pointed out at the end of the episode, just in case the creepy exterior didn't clue you in earlier – the main plot at this point appears to revolve around the relationships between the brothers. This in itself is not quite as interesting as one might hope, with the major plot point being the two elder going to check out Chutaro's school because he was flippant with Tenka as he set off in the morning. Tenka thinks Chutaro has a crush on his pretty purple-haired teacher Botan, and uses this as an excuse to go poking around in a desk in the classroom. He finds what looks vaguely like some sort of scroll on indigo paper, which is clearly a plot point because he stops laughing like a loon and looks serious for a moment. Unfortunately this is one of the most interesting few seconds in the episode – while the hints at the true nature of the prison and Soramaru's attempts to best Tenka (and his bloody flashback) are good, they are also fleeting, and most of the episode is taken up with scenes of the brothers, during which I fantasized about cutting off Tenka's spider leg hair.
Laughing Under the Clouds may get better. It clearly has elements of evil that could be developed into something worth watching, and maybe the title will turn out to be something deeply symbolic about keeping one's chin up in the face of adversity, or maybe “under the clouds” is a reference to Japanese nobles being said to live “above the clouds.” In any event, when you're musing about that in a preview, it doesn't say anything all that wonderful about the episode itself. Here's hoping it manages to capitalize on its small moments of potential, because there really could be a story in there, no matter how deeply this episode has buried it.
Laughing Under the Clouds is available streaming at Funimation.
There's not much to recommend about Laughing Under the Clouds. This first episode introduces us to the three Kumoh brothers, who, in the early years of the Meiji era are tasked with ferrying felons to an island prison. This is a busy job, apparently, as new societal strictures have led to a mass of unruly former samurai. Throughout this first episode, the middle brother Soramaru grapples with feelings of inadequacy as eldest Tenka attempts to act as surrogate parent. After making short detours into random crossdressing and criminal-hunting, the episode ends with a brief, mysterious flashback before bringing the whole family back together again.
There wasn't much about this show's premise, characters, or aesthetic execution that actually impressed me - unfortunately, virtually everything noteworthy about this episode was something bad. Its exposition, for one thing. Many shows use graceless exposition dumps to impart information to the viewer, but in Laughing Under the Clouds, that exposition comprises maybe half the conversations. Like in the very first scene, when the two younger brothers tell each other about the job both of them have. Or when the brothers walk into town, where a pair of bystanders murmur “Those Kumoh brothers are always so energetic.” “Yes. It's such a shame their parents died of tuberculosis.” You don't say! Or closer to the end, when Soramaru literally announces all of the mixed feelings he harbors regarding his older brother. Laughing Under the Clouds does not impart a single piece of information through visual or nonverbal storytelling that it could not have characters literally announce - characters monologue their information and then move off the screen.
The show's aesthetic execution is equally lackluster. There's no real animation to speak of - fight scenes are comprised of still frames with speed lines, and the simplistic slapstick falls flat due to its minimalist visual execution. The character designs themselves are also something of a problem - this might not be such a big deal in a show that gave me other things to pay attention to, but here, Tenka's absurd hair-frond and youngest brother Chutaro's ridiculous hat tend to draw more focus than whatever's actually going on. And when your first episode is already resorting to dressing the characters in drag to give them something to do, you know you likely have a problem.
It wasn't all bad, though. I got a bit of a chuckle out of the villagers completely ignoring Tenka's poorly conceived disguise, and his attempts to act as a replacement parent to his brothers lent the episode a little emotional weight. But those are concessions, not strengths - overall, this was a lousy debut.
Laughing Under the Clouds is available streaming at Funimation.com.
Rating: 3 (of 5)
Review: What would an anime season be without some kind of a period piece? Rather than focus on the samurai or the Shinsengumi, though, this adaptation of a shojo manga takes an entirely different tack. Set during the Meiji Restoration after the point where the open carry of swords was outlawed but while unrest amongst the former samurai was still causing problems (in other words, not long after 1873), it focuses on the three brothers of the Kumou shrine, who have been charged with ferrying criminals to the fortress-like Gokumonjo prison on an island in Lake Biwa. The eldest and head of the shrine, Tenka, also assists the police in dealing with escaped criminals, something which middle brother Soramaru desperately yearns to help with, too, to prove his worth, though Tenka does not allow it. Youngest brother Chutaro also wants to help, though he is far less earnest about it; his is more of a childish enthusiasm. Hints of some darker elements pop up, too: Soramaru briefly recalls some bloody event he had forgotten, Tenka finds a mysterious picture at a school, and a prisoner the brothers had been transporting has an ominous encounter at Gokumonjo. Then there's also the long-lingering clouds which may portend some coming calamity. But the brothers also have their goofy moments, too, such as Tenka's bizarre notion about going undercover or his behavior when he thinks Chutraro is keeping something from him.
After one episode the setting and brotherly bonding are firmly-established, but otherwise this feels more like a prologue than the actual story. What little tidbits of something odd going on are scattered around give no real sense of what direction the story is going in. That may be a moot point, though, as the emphasis here is clearly on allowing female viewers to ogle some fine-looking young men, a point reinforced by the fact that and other male character besides them and their pale-haired house guest looks decidedly plain (if not outright ugly) by comparison. While the production effort by Dogakobo definitely takes short cuts in the action scenes, it is otherwise up to the task of showing off the male characters’ charms, as it provides attractively-designed and sumptuously-rendered characters.
Like Hakuoki before it, though, this one plays it smart by throwing out enough bones to male audiences that it is not just purely fodder for the ladies. It resists the most onerous stylistic tendencies of shojo works and does nothing that should make any male viewer too uncomfortable. The possible historical aspects are also a potential hook, and it does feature one very pretty female character, too (Chutaro's teacher, whom we know is going to be an important character because her name is shown on the screen). Still, making a call on this one without having a better sense of where the story is going is difficult, so it gets a middling grade for now.
Laughing Under the Clouds is currently streaming on Funimation.com.
The most important thing you need to know about Laughing Under the Clouds is that the oldest Kumoh brother has insanely ugly hair. I mean, really. The two younger brothers have a perfectly tasteful theme going on with the all-black-hair-with-one-red-ombre-piece thing, and then Brother #1 has this big dorky pinwheel on the back of his head with every leg of the wheel dyed red...the temptation to reach in and just tear the flat paper-y thing off is overwhelming. Unfortunately, this temptation is in no way mitigated by a compelling story, characters, action, anything. Yup, this one's just a dud.
See, it's the beginning of the Meiji era (again) and the three orphaned Kumoh brothers, whose parents must have done a solid for the government at some point, have been contracted to ferry lawbreakers across a giant lake to a state prison, and subdue them if they resist capture. The boys are still young, so they're not impeccable swordsmen, but they do okay at restraining the occasional ronin or rogue criminal here and there. That's the premise on paper, but I think the focus is meant to be on the comedic relationship between the three brothers rather than any larger "reformation of Japan" theme, despite a teaser in the episode's final moments hinting at a larger plot that will probably put these three caballeros in peril. Unfortunately, what passes for "chemistry" between the three brothers is...painful.
True, the show's animation is poor and the premise is boring, but these could at least be saved with strong characterization. None of that here! The dialogue in this show is atrocious, lame, insulting...just a laundry list of "how not to write characters" from top to bottom. The brothers walk through town and nameless townspeople remark out loud: "THOSE BROTHERS ARE SO WACKY. IT IS TOO BAD THAT THEIR PARENTS DIED OF TUBERCULOSIS. YES TRULY A SHAME." When the oldest Kumoh brother takes on a dangerous challenge to protect his younger siblings, a friend of the family remarks, "YOUR BROTHER IS ALWAYS DOING THINGS LIKE THAT. I BET IT'S BECAUSE HE'S TRYING TO TAKE THE PLACE OF YOUR PARENTS." Every line is groan-worthy "as you know" dialogue or people literally explaining their motivations and feelings out loud, to the extent that they often talk to themselves or bring up unrelated topics out of nowhere. To make matters worse, the many many many jokes meant to illustrate the brothers' loving bond in between are at best cheesy and at worst unbearable.
The execution here is pretty stinky, but it's the writing underneath that's really rotten, leaving a final impression that's only boring, awkward, and lame. Not the worst thing ever, but definitely skippable. I was definitely not laughing, under the clouds...I was at my monitor, and it's very sunny outside.
Laughing Under the Clouds is available streaming at Funimation.
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