This is review number four hundred and seventeen. This anime is part of the Fall 2014 lineup, and it’s called Daitoshokan no Hitsujikai or “A Good Librarian Like a Good Shepherd”. It’s a weird title, I know. But I assure you, there are no literal farm animals in this anime. I was disappointed too. So what’s this anime about? Well, let’s read on.
Kyoutarou Kakei saved a girl from a train accident, and then he joins her club called the Happy Project. Soon, more people join their group and it’s revealed that they all got the same mysterious text from a person named “the shepherd”. The group has decided to search the sender’s true identity, but the truth is actually related to Kyoutarou himself. He soon must choose to be with the group or slowly be forgotten.
Taking the Pants Off
This anime has a weird ass title, and I actually thought it was a light novel. When I saw the bulky character, I knew we are dealing with something else entirely: a visual novel. Oh boy, I am not prepared to review one. Never let the title of an anime entice you into watching it. Visual Novels are very tricky to review, because they’re generally awful. That’s the baseline impression of most VN anime review. It’s either “this anime is awful” or “this anime is confusing”. It’s awful because the charm of playing a game cannot carry over to watching an anime about the game. Even the simplest intentions of the game are often muddled in the adaptation. A good example is Starry Sky or Bro-Con. I cannot believe we’re bringing up those anime, but awful VN adaptations exist and they’re very common. On the other hand, they can be confusing, like the Unlimited Blade Works movie released by Studio Deen. What even happened in that over condensed adaptation? The general consensus is that it’s confusing, but also awful, but more because it was confusing. This is VN anime. You’re either awful or you’re confusing, and Daitoshokan no Hitsujikai falls in one of the two camps. It’s confusing, because the anime is so gawd damn fragmented. The anime is presented like an art collage where pieces are put together, not to make sense, but to create something new entirely. The show’s approach is so uninteresting that completing the anime is so demotivating. But I did it, I f*cking did it, and now we’re going to talk about it. This anime sucks.
The Thirty Percent Rule
Ok, before we start, I’d just like to say that I pulled this number out of nowhere. It’s more of a statement that actual statistics. All I’m saying is that most VN anime have no chance. The moment you think you’d like to adapt a visual novel, then the best you can do is something below fifty percent or a below average outcome. Average VN anime exists, but majority of them are below average. They often sit comfortably between “I can’t believe I’m wasting my time with this sh*t” and “meh, characters look hot/sexy”, and that’s fine. The complications of adapting a visual novel are too much, so you should always expect the worst and hope for the best. This is why Fate Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works by UFOtable blew me away. They went above the average mark, but you should realize that Studio Deen’s Fate Stay Night proves my rule of being below average to be true. Sure, I’d love more Steins;Gate or Clannad, but you’d often get underwhelming shows instead like Robotic;Notes or Little Busters. They’re below average, but good enough. Hell, back in the weird transition phase of the early 2000s, you’d get awful VN anime titles. Tsukihime, anyone? How about some School Days? To be honest, even as recent as 2016, we still get below average VN anime like Rewrite, so really, it’s nobody’s fault. VN anime is just really hard to do. It often has to do with its branching stories, multiple endings and unlockable routes. With so much time to stew on the game, you really cannot condense that into a twelve episode anime. I don’t blame studios for constantly making more adaptations, but I’m also not surprised that they suck. What else is new?
With that being said, let’s take a look at Daitoshokan no Hitsujikai. It’s a PSP game, and it’s an “adult VN”. I’m genuinely not sure if that means the characters have explicit sex, like Yosuga no Sora, but I think they do. This is why VN is also a pain to review. You often don’t have access to the original source, unlike LN or manga. Sometimes, despite the VN being popular, there’d be no gameplay of it on youtube or just a discussion thread that is not in Japanese. I found a review though, and it’s decent. Check it out HERE. It gives you a basic idea of the game, and it looks pretty straightforward. I love the term “main trunk” since routes are obviously branches. The game seems to have a very easy main trunk that connects directly to its true route, so the other routes don’t really affect it. It looks like the publishers aren’t being as ambitious as Key, and that’s fine. The more intertwined the stories, the more complicated and confusing the adaptation becomes. There seems to be four routes, and you need to finish one to unlock the true route containing a fifth girl. It seems the routes are very simple, like the ones in Yosuga no Sora. It’s just girls, their problems and maybe sex as a reward? Who knows, the review didn’t explicitly mention the sex, but I’d like to think it exists. I guess I also just want these characters to f*ck.
But, ok, we have a very simple game here. Routes are self-contained, the main trunk and true route acts as its main story, and there’s enough fluff in the game to act as filler. You can do the Yosuga no Sora/Amagami format of featuring every route and just rewinding to do the others. You can also do Steins;Gates format of mixing in the branches with the main trunk and pick off each branch until you reach the true route. Hell, we can even go Dramatical Murder here. Let’s have six episodes for the main trunk, one episode each for the branches and one episode for the true route. We can go beyond thirty percent, but damn it, no. We didn’t. This adaptation did a Studio Deen Fate Stay Night format.
Fragmented Like A Puzzle But Missing Some Pieces
This anime was awful from the get go. It follows a bookworm that can apparently see the future. He got a premonition of a girl killed by an incoming train, so he dove head on to save her. By doing so, he ends up groping her breasts. This branded him as a pervert, he was mocked, bullied until the girl step in and told everyone it was consensual. Cool.
Then she asks him to join his Happy Project, and he agreed. Soon, him and the girl moves into the Library Club room, and they got two new members afterwards. I believe the main trunk is just the club spending time together until Golden Week where bookworm will decide if he wants to continue being part of the Happy Project. I think the game branches off when we got all members of the club to join, and the fun begins. The main trunk is easy to spot, since it’s about the mysterious Shepherd texts. A mysterious e-mail is forwarded to people, and it’s often a message about their future. Bookworm got a text saying that he’ll find what he’s looking for if he joins the Happy Project, and the rest of the group received the same texts. This sets up a search for the Shepherd, who can send e-mails even to a brand new cellphone that a character just bought that day. It’s intriguing mystery, but the anime doesn’t heavily focus on this. I don’t think the show even has focus, since it just throws so much at us.
While the show is unpacking the main trunk, it’s also dipping into the branches. Certain scenes in an episode feature the bookworm interacting with the girls by himself. An episode could be about finding out who the Shepherd is, but it can also give time to the guy being cute with two or three girls. The anime can also drop some bits about the branches, like the dandere being a workaholic, the kuudere hating her “Song Princess” title or the student council president wanting bookworm to join the student council. Whoever series composed this anime needs to die, because they missed a lot of important points.
Firstly, they never tell us what the Happy Project is for, and we’ll just see the group do volunteer work for no reason. Are they a club? Why did they agree to do free labor? What actually brought them together other than a vague text about joining the club? More importantly, what the hell is this anime about? This is an important question the show never bothered to answer. Clannad is about family, Steins Gate is about time travel, and School Days is about featuring the bad ending of the notorious VN. What’s the motivation for this anime? Yeah, there is a mystery about a Shepherd, but is that it? No insight into the characters? No overarching theme to tie the show together? It’s just a group of people in a club finding out who texts them random stuff. That’s not an interesting story. What else is there in this anime? You’re not giving the audience enough reason to invest in the show. You just hurriedly establish the status quo without any reason, so watching the first episode can be confusing. I was lost for most of it. There is one thing clear about the confusing first part of the anime though.
Its One True Strength
The characters are all amazing. Not in how the functioned in the story, but more on just them being fun characters. The main trunk of the game features a lot of time with the Happy Project club, and you mostly follow their vibrant time together. It’s pretty great, since every character has a specific personality to play, and it matches well with the rest of the members. I often love the club room scenes because they focus on the wonderful interaction of the group, and it just highlights the characters themselves being cute and quirky. I know it’s not much, but it helps lessen the blow of the clearly botched adaptation you can spot in just the first episode. Highlighting the group activities is also a smart way to help make the branch stories more endearing. As you get to know a character as they function in the group, they’d eventually have some alone time with our bookworm main character. Since you already have an idea of how they act, then their flirting scenes with bookworm feels welcome. It’s a side of the goofy characters that you’ll only see if you follow their branch story, and I like that aspect of the anime. The show also understood early on that the characters are really the only saving grace of this adaptation, so they’re heavily showcased in the episodes.
I guess I’d call it fan service, at this point, because the heavy character showcase is also a big nod to the fans that played the actual game. I love the close ups of the characters, because their faces are wonderfully animated. Their reactions are cute and engaging as if you, the viewer, have triggered a flag on your own. It’s a cute element of the anime. The fan service comes in both the ecchi aspect, but also just featuring the personalities of the girls themselves. Their relationship with bookworm, which varies for each girl, is also presented and their little quirks really help in making them likeable. I mean, god forbid, these are very stereotypical characters, but the anime is doing the effort to really make them appealing. They’ll grow on you if you slowly let them. The cast is also the biggest positive of the show because it does distract you from the dumb progression and scattered storytelling. The awful story will persist, but the characters are doing their own thing and it’s the one positive I like in the show.
The pacing is still not handled with any grace though. Series composition is the one that arranges the content of an episode. Short sighted storytelling features strong series composition, because the content of a specific episode is handled decently. For example, the entire episode can be about one of the girls, her branch, while the main trunk serves as the backbone of the series. It’s not that hard. I hate short sighted storytelling, because it results in a horrible overall experience. This anime does not even have cohesion in one episode. That’s how horrible the fragmented storytelling is. An episode can have one big theme of focusing on the main trunk, but it’ll segue abruptly to a girl and her branch while also giving us some scenes of another girl and her branch. Keep in mind, a branch is a story of the game and they are long. Setting up a branch takes time, but the anime scatters them. You’ll never know the show is focusing on a branch story or just featuring the Happy Project club going off (which is part of the main trunk). The transition is horrible, and it just ruins the show. I want to know the branch stories, because the game review pointed out that they don’t really affect the main trunk story. They can exist by themselves, so it’s very easy to feature them in one full episode. Dramatical Murder did it, and that anime is awful. It did something right though. For this anime, gawd almight, the main trunk and the different branches progresses at the same time. An episode could focus all the routes in a confusing soup of absolute cluterf*ck.
To give you an idea how stupid the series composition is, let’s talk about the routes. Again, it’s nothing too serious. In most VN adaptations, you’ll often just get the “gist” of the branches in the game, and that’s fine. There are four branches here. One is about the girl that created the Happy Project club. The reason why she wants the main character to join the club leads to her route, and it reveals her reason for doing all of it. It fleshes out into a story about giving everyone a helping hand with all of your effort, and it climaxes into the girl creating her on cultural festival. See, that’s one solitary story of the game. This route appears, fades into background, and re-appears with no real reason. Almost all of the routes act like this.
Another route is about the dandere being a workaholic. The more she talks with bookworm, the more her feelings intensify to the point that she starts flirting. The more she gets alone time with him, the more she leads on. She’s hot. Anyways, another route is the super energetic girl. She wears her emotions in her sleeves, and she tries too hard to be happy. Bookworm actually notices this, and he points out early on that she is fine the way she is. She lets her guard down because of this. It fleshes her out and progresses to her conflict about why she overcompensates as a person. I like this girl a lot. The last branch is about the song princess. It’s pretty straightforward, because she hates being talented, she ditches her lessons and escapes in the Happy Project club. When confronted with her problems, she decides to quit being a singer while trying to hide her insecurities by flirting with bookworm. This blows up until she changes her mind. These four different stories are fine by themselves, and I don’t even care that some aren’t resolved in the show. We got some pay off here when the girls got a chance to kiss the main character. I’d prefer the show live up to its “adult visual novel” title, but I just really like characters and want to see them naked. All these stories are cute, right? One problem though.
The Main Trunk
The girls act as a harem in the main trunk. Yeah, that’s something. You watch an anime, see the girls lumped together as a harem, then see them have some moments with bookworm by themselves as well. The tone of the main trunk and the branches are vastly different, yet the anime doesn’t make the effort to separate them. The result is a gigantic mess. Hell, it even came to a point where the super energetic girl and the song princess were paired together, like they’re best friends. It makes sense if we just followed the Happy Project club’s journey as a group, but they spent a lot of time flirting with the main character, so what’s up with the weird signals? To make matters worse, the main trunk has a different girl for bookworm to flirt with. So yeah, it’s a mess.
I do like the Shepherd story though. I like the mystery, the roles of these people and their connection with the main character. The true route is about him, I believe, and it explains why he is such a loner. It explains why he got a text from the Shepherd about joining the Happy Project club, and it kinda frames the entire overall story of the game together. I also like the meta aspect of the Shepherds regarding the routes a person takes in their life. It’s a beautiful concept, and I’m a little bummed it isn’t really part of the branches. The little caveat about the Shepherds transcending humanity is also a nice touch, because we can have a bittersweet romance with all the characters if this little rule is placed in all the branch stories. There is potential in this anime, and if they really took the time to make the show watchable, then I believe we could’ve gotten an above average anime out of this game. The characters are likeable, the individual routes are decent and the game seems straightforward enough to consume. It just feels like the staff was overwhelmed by the original source and the end result is a confusing mess proving my thirty percent rule.
Team Nico and Hoods Entertainment
Gawd almight, I have never heard of Team Nico. I thought it was just a cool name by a pretentious director, but I was wrong. It’s an actual team of five different people directing the anime. This group also designed the characters and drew some of the key animations. I think that’s a really cool thing to do, since I love hands-on directors like that. But, jesus, five people to direct one anime? Why, exactly? Often times, one director handling one anime is already a disaster so this is fivefold. To be fair though, character design and animation is the strengths of the anime. The way the characters flirt, act quirky or just act cute makes the show entertaining, so I think the five man team has done their part in the show. They gave us effort, and it resulted in a wonderful anime experience. You also can’t dismiss the team’s pedigree. They are a collection of awesome key animators. One of them provided key animation for Attack on Titan and a lot of Production IG shows, while another provided key animation for Ghibli movies like Whisper of the Heart. They know what they’re doing, and it’s a shame this awesome collection of talents had to direct a VN anime.
But enough nonsense, who series composed this sh*t? Kiyoko Yoshimura. She also wrote the script, so congratulations on this flaming piece of garbage. I’ve only ever seen one other anime she also did series composition on, and it was Akuma no Riddle. The anime is also plagued with bad writing, so maybe she should stop. Nah, I am serious when I say a bad VN anime is nobody’s fault. Sure, she could’ve arranged the episodes better for a smoother flow and pacing, but it still wouldn’t elevate the anime above fifty percent. I hate her as a writer though, and I hope to gawd I don’t come across any of her works soon. Her writing isn’t just messy and lacking cohesion, but it’s also underwhelming. I can enjoy” awful bad”, but “boring bad” kills me. As for Hoods Entertainment, the studio, they mostly do underwhelming shows as well. I love Manyuu Hikenchou, but I wouldn’t exactly recommend it to people. They also did Mysterious Girlfriend X, and that anime is just disgusting. They do decent anime though, but not really something you can really sink your teeth into. Maybe their next releases will be a lot more fun, but we’ll just have to wait and see.
Sight and Sound
Original Character design is done by Bekkankou. His designs are pretty amazing. I love his heavy outlines, especially in the hair. He also makes some defined characters that truly make the game engaging. I guess they’re a bit stereotypical, but the detail work makes up for that. The body proportions are great, the fan service aspect is wonderful and the outfits are nicely designed. I love the school uniforms, and it follows the tradition of VNs having awesome school uniforms. Girl uniforms often have a little cape added to their ensemble, while different grades have different ribbons. I love those little touches, since the game is never dull with the visuals. Consistency is an issue in the VN though, but it wasn’t the case for the anime. Team Nico really respected Bekkankou’s design, and they made them more appealing. They made the design more consistent, focused on the cute yet sexy appeal of the characters, and the constant close ups reveal how beautifully conceived the characters are. Team Nico really poured effort in making the characters come to life, and I really appreciate that. The strong designs are nicely adapted in the anime, so that’s one thing the anime adaptation got right.
Animation is pretty good. I personally love the bulky characters designs, since they usually take a lot more effort to animate. I guess with a team of key animators then the burden is shared. Again, I love the character close ups and I love their solo scenes with the main character. The flirting scenes are also pretty decent, and the animation really tried to emphasize how different the relationships are with bookworm and the girls. Their kissing scenes are also different in how they are presented. The camera work is very impressive, and the flow of the scenes is smartly thought up. I really just wish the story can be as good. I also love the vibrant atmosphere of the club. When characters banter, you’d often see the other members doing their own thing in the background. The animation is so detailed that no one just sits there staring at others, and animating an organic group scene is particularly hard. Effort is really given to the animation though, and it shows. There is even some smart comedic timing in some of the gags. The moe jokes (characters turn moe for a punchline) rarely happen, and it’s used to punctuate a scene. I love that detail work. The animation’s weakness is really the story’s fault. The lack of cohesion weighs the animation down, so the positives are overwhelmingly buried by the glaring negatives.
The anime’s OP is “On my sheep” by Mitsuki Nakae. This is a very generic song, but I do like the lyrics. It kinda spoils the anime as it talks about finding strength in someone and taking them as they are. There are also lyrics about cherishing memories, which is kinda important for the true route. The song itself feels generic though, but the OP sequence makes up for that. It features the strong animation, and it had some cute snippets of the characters. The camera work and the transition are amazing here, and it does encapsulate the feeling of the show minus the confusing story. The anime’s ED is “Aozora to Green Belt” by Hagumi Nishizawa. The song is decent, but it’s made impressive by Hagumi and her lovely voice. The song itself is kinda like the OP, but Hagumi gives it some decent personality. It’s about keeping cherished memories as you look forward to the future. Again, the memory thing is highlighted here. The ED sequence is actually just a simple scene of Tsugumi being cute, and it ends with her sleeping next to her photo album. It’s pretty straightforward, but I love the restrain shown here. Team Nico really knows their stuff, and I hope they remain as a group on other projects.
3/10 “The fragmented storytelling ruins everything, and it destroys any strong positives the anime might possess.”
Well, add this to the list of failed VN adaptations. While there is effort put into some aspects of the anime, the overall experience is not worth sitting through a confusing mess of different stories. I must say though, I’d love to see Team Nico direct other anime. While they might’ve been put into a team by force, their work is amazing. The characters are engaging and they grow on you, but the story really killed any chance of the show being good. Checking out a few episodes won’t hurt, but this is not worth your time. I do not recommend this.