Rainbow – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Rainbow: Nisha Rokubou no Shichinin

 

Similar: Tomorrow’s Joe

Gungrave

Grave of the Fireflies

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Historical Drama Thriller

Length: 26 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Brutal depiction of post-war Japan.
  • Chemistry between the boys.
  • Sakuragi vs. prison guard dynamic.
  • Top-notch acting.
  • Unexpected outcomes.

Negatives:

  • Second half doesn’t tie together as well as it should.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Post-war Japan was a harsh place. For the poor, the abused, life was rough as the country tried to rebuild. In 1955, six teens find themselves on the wrong side of the law and sent to a correctional school, where they meet Sakuragi, their new cellmate. The events that follow will push them to the limits, punish them for daring to live, and test their resolve for survival until their sentences in hell are over.

Rainbow is brutal, not for the faint of heart. The production team warns you as much each episode with a disclaimer that the brutality, the depravity you will see is accurate of the time and it would be a disrespect to hide it. The first experience in prison is to have the doctor violate one of the boys in front of his friends. The doctor has a faux-gentle voice that makes one’s skin crawl. We witness a child rape not long after. It won’t be the last.

Rainbow never relents with either the characters or the audience. If you are to start this journey, know that peace never truly arrives.

Day one in the cell, Sakuragi beats the ego out of the other six to teach humility. Survival of the fittest is the only natural law that matters in this “school” and reckless bravado will get you killed. He becomes a role model to the others, uniting the group in friendship that even hell will have a tough time breaking. This chemistry between the boys not only makes Rainbow engaging but also loaded with emotion. When all of them put themselves on the line to allow Joe to see his little sister and save her from the rapist that adopted them, you feel a genuine bond tying these guys together.

Each brings something to the group with a distinct personality. The short but business savvy ‘Turtle’ has an endearing cockiness about him. ‘Cabbage’ is a friendly giant, ‘Soldier’ is disciplined, ‘Uncovered’ may be a bit of a prick but he’s got a plan to cover your back, and Mario is loyal to his own detriment. Every character in Rainbow is memorable thanks to a complete backstory and complex characteristics. It’s evident within an episode or two that the creator didn’t take any shortcuts when planning his characters.

As I watch these characters grow, I want nothing but the best for them. I want to protect these guys. I want them to be happy. Why can’t they catch a break? Why can’t they just be happy? It’s rare for a story to have me care so much for so many of its characters.

Their camaraderie evokes emotional moments. The most emotional scene for me doesn’t involve any violence or tragedy; it’s just everyone being there for one in the group when he needs them most.

The best arc in Rainbow belongs to Sakuragi, however, because of the conflict between him and the prison guard, a man who will stop at nothing to ruin his life. The guard tries to sow dissent among the friends, tortures the guys, and is complicit in the doctor’s vile acts as long as he can continue to torment Sakuragi. Their arc is fantastic and unexpected in direction. Rainbow as a whole makes several unexpected turns – not twists exactly. Rather, you don’t expect the outcomes of certain threads and events. The writer took bold decisions with the plot.

If I haven’t made it clear already, Rainbow is an anime worthy among the best. Yet, nothing is without fault and the major one with this anime is that the second half isn’t as strong as the first, owing to a lack of cohesion between arcs. The second half is closer to a series of short stories for each of the guys. While these stories are great, the writer didn’t weave them together. It would have been better to run several stories in unison, leaping frogging each other through interwoven events. For example, Joe’s story is about wishing to sing while Mario’s is about his boxing. There is no reason these couldn’t have had connected events and a little shared conflict. Weaving arcs together deepens the connection and raises stakes further when more characters have something on the line. Even so, Rainbow is still excellent throughout.

I don’t know how this anime stayed off my radar until requested for review. I had the horrid thought the other day that I may never have seen Rainbow if not for one dear reader… Even though I’m certain I have every great (or said to be great) anime on my list already, I am going to go through the databases again, just to be sure another Rainbow doesn’t slip past me. Such great anime deserves to be watched by all.

Art – High

The animation is only above average, but the visual style has atmosphere and the painterly stills during key moments are gorgeous, full of emotion.

Sound – Very High

You need great performances to pull off an anime of Rainbow’s weight, and they did it. I love the OP and ED, which stay the same throughout, unable to skip them each time they started. The only audio flaw is with some of the American characters likely played by expats in Japan with mixed acting expertise.

Story – Very High

Seven cellmates in a juvenile reform school cling to hope and friendship during a harsh post-war Japan. Rainbow’s uncompromising conflict will have you engaged and cheering for these boys to the end.

Overall Quality – Very High

Recommendation: A must watch unless you don’t like the brutal subject matter. Rainbow is a top tier anime that deserves a larger audience.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive: 

Deep NarrativeExtensive Character DevelopmentGreat OP or ED SequencePhenomenal VillainStellar Voice ActingStrong Lead CharactersStrong Support Characters

Negative: None

Advertisements

Noblesse – Anime Review

Korean Title: Noblesse

 

Related: Noblesse: The Beginning of Destruction (prequel – included in review)

Similar: Hellsing Ultimate

Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust

Castlevania

 

Watched in: Japanese & Korean

Genre: Supernatural Action Fantasy

Length: Two 30-minute movies

 

Positives:

  • Makes you want to read the manhwa.
  • Well-choreographed action.
  • Bloody good powers.

Negatives:

  • Awakening is just the opening chapter.
  • Production issues in Beginning of Destruction.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Noblesse (French for nobility), based on the popular manhwa webtoon of the same name, has received two short film adaptions, seemingly as a test for the reception of a full series. The first film, Noblesse: The Beginning of Destruction, tells the story of Raizel the Noblesse Vampire and werewolf lord Muzaka in medieval Europe as humans wage war around them, ending in the tragic falling out of these two friends. I assume this is a flashback volume from the manhwa selected as a self-contained story. Noblesse: Awakening is the proper start of the saga, where Raizel awakens from an 820-year slumber to find an unfamiliar modern world. He seeks out Frankenstein, loyal servant and current school principal, for help and ends up attending the school to learn modern life from his human classmates, who soon come under threat from other supernatural entities.

I have good and bad news about Noblesse. The good news? What we have of the series here is strong – I am excited for more. The bad news? That’s all there is in anime form (for now, hopefully) and we have to turn to the manhwa for the rest, which isn’t complete either.

While Awakening is a strong start, it truly is the mere first 2-3 episodes rushed to fit in as much as possible in 30 minutes. We see a bit of every key scene in setting up a larger story. Raizel awakens, meets Frankenstein, goes to class, makes friends against his will in a hilarious scene believing chopsticks are stakes and the garlic in kimchi is to poison him, and then the other vampires capture his friends for the climactic fight. Without having read the manhwa, I would wager it takes more time with these scenes. Still, they do work fine in the anime.

I like Raizel. He is the definition of a Korean drama protagonist. Let me tell you about Korean dramas one day – they’re plenty of fun. For now, the first rule is that the male lead must be tall, slender, handsome, and even a bit effeminate (middle-aged Korean ladies go nuts for that). Bonus points if he is emotionally reserved. Raizel barely speaks throughout both films with maybe 10 lines in Beginning of Destruction. However, he isn’t dull like Kaname, the aloof vampire of Vampire Knight – at least, not in what I’ve seen so far. His inner monologue, as present in the lunch scene, and his imposing manner give him character. When he has to make a hard choice in Beginning of Destruction, you can feel his pain conveyed in few words and facial expressions.

He’s overpowered as hell, though not without consequences. His blood magic looks great, particularly in the prequel.

Speaking of, Beginning of Destruction is the better of the two films when watched as is, owed due to the completeness of the arc. It does have lower production values, however, and I could only find it in Korean, which did work well. This story takes its time with the scenes, giving us enough to connect with the werewolf lord and the human girl he protects before the action starts. The action itself is well choreographed in both films and has a surprising amount of story weight for such little runtime.

Noblesse needs more episodes to deliver its potential, which I hope to see very soon. This is one of few anime adaptions I desire.

Art – High

The prequel may have average production values, but Awakening looks great and oozes style that is classically manhwa. Good animation for the engaging action.

Sound – Medium

The acting is solid. However, the music in Awakening feels generic, as if it not made for this anime but bought from a stock library. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn the budget is responsible.

Story – Medium

An ancient vampire awakens to a modern world he doesn’t recognise and must learn of society and technology. The prequel shows his final moments before sleep over 800 years ago. Noblesse sets up a promising story that demands completion.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Hmm…I don’t like recommending incomplete work. If you fall in love and have to suffer the agonising wait for more, was it worth starting at all? Either wait or watch Noblesse and begin the manhwa.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive: N/A

Negative:

Incomplete

Birdy the Mighty: Decode – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Tetsuwan Birdy Decode

 

Related: Birdy the Mighty (old OVA version)

Similar: Parasyte -the maxim-

Ajin: Demi-Human

Darker than Black

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Science Fiction Action Comedy

Length: 26 episodes (2 seasons)

 

Positives:

  • Surprisingly good.
  • Complexity of alien relations.
  • Birdy is a fun character.

Negatives:

  • Audio mixing issues.
  • The guy is too ordinary.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Birdy Cephon is an intergalactic officer from the Space Federation working on Earth to find her target, an alien disguised as a fashion worker. To that end, she remodels herself as ‘Shion Arita’, fashion idol by day, officer by night. The target is within reach when it all goes wrong. She accidentally kills Tsutomu, a high school boy that happened to be in the building, and in her distress, she takes his consciousness into her body with the hope her people may be able to restore him. Until then, they have to balance his school life with both her jobs, all while keeping the dual residence a secret. More aliens are on the way.

When I first saw this setup, I resigned myself to an average series, something pleasant along the lines of Noragami. You have ordinary guy with extraordinary girl in high school for hijinks thanks to the ability to swap appearance back and forth, and the occasional villain to vanquish. The humour made good use of the scenario – when he annoys her, she initiates a punch against herself, swaps bodies, and he takes a fist to the face. They soon travelled to her home world, a nexus of alien civilisations with the Space Federation, where she initiated protocol to restore his body and she faced punishment for his destruction. I like the alien tech, such as the ships and the city – I anticipated an earthbound adventure only. These were pleasant surprises, but they returned to Earth sooner than I would have liked and the ‘ordinary’ settled in.

I had heard conflicting reports of Birdy the Mighty: Decode for years (the reason it’s on my list to begin with), and I started to feel which side I would fall on. Once the plot gets going, however, and all the typical body swapping jokes and secret identity scenes are out of its system, Birdy the Mighty: Decode captured my attention. This change starts when an alien entity merges with one of Tsutomu’s friends, raising his personal stakes and delivering a heartfelt narrative. The main villain of the season, Shyamalan (I can’t find confirmation if this is a play on the Hollywood director), also steps up. His pure evil heightens conflict further.

The first season ends with significant ramifications, which the second season uses to full effect. A group of alien fugitives are in disguise on Earth for Birdy/Tsutomu to capture. However, rather than be typical evil-only villains, they have shades of grey that creates a complex web of relations. Some ally, some turn on each other, and some even want no part of the whole affair. Then other villains want to kill these villains. And a friend of Birdy’s adds yet another knot to the plot.

Birdy the Mighty: Decode goes from predictable to engaging and far more violent than the colourful art implies. If anything, it adds too much in season two. A few sub-plots don’t have much to them since there simply isn’t enough screen time for everyone. Also, though we do return to the alien world, it’s still not as much as I would like. This nexus reminds me of Mass Effect’s Citadel, which is my favourite location in that game.

Lastly, Tsutomu never grows into a deep character, despite all efforts. He’s not harem level, of course, but the writer fell for the trap of thinking that an ordinary character meant bland. Birdy makes up for it with her sense of fun contrasted by her violent backstory as ‘Berserker Killer Birdy’.

Birdy the Mighty: Decode is by no means excellent, yet it does just enough to put it above the middle tier of comfortable anime. This was a pleasant surprise.

Art – Medium

Can you believe this stylised art came for A-1 Pictures, the studio of blandness? This was before they ran out of creativity. The ‘weak’ line work makes the colours pop and the animation is great most of the time, but the character detail is too low by today’s standards. I still like the style and texture.

Sound – Medium

Season one has a serious audio mixing problem. You strain to hear the dialogue because it sounds as if everyone whispers, then a sudden moment of action blows out your eardrums. It’s been a while since I experienced an anime with this problem. Be careful of the ED, which is at twice the volume of the content. That said, I enjoyed the music when it wasn’t trying to kill me.

Story – High

A boy merges with an alien girl after she accidentally blasts him apart, dragging him into her world of alien criminal hunting and intergalactic relations. A patchy first season doesn’t stop Birdy the Mighty: Decode from weaving an engaging plot in the second.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: For sci-fi fans. I didn’t expect to like Birdy the Mighty: Decode – you may have the same experience. Don’t bother with the old OVA version (unless you love awful dubs).

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive: None

Negative: None

Ajin: Demi-Human – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Ajin

 

Related: Ajin: Demi-Human 2nd Season (included in review)

Ajin Movies (old version)

Similar: Parasyte –the maxim-

Tokyo Ghoul

Elfen Lied

Scryed

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Supernatural Action Horror

Length: 26 episodes (2 seasons), 3 OVA

 

Positives:

  • Starts well.
  • Fast pace.
  • Interesting immortality mechanics.

Negatives:

  • Villains try far too hard.
  • Allegiance flipping.
  • CG still needs work.
  • Poor dialogue.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Ajin: Demi-Human is one of Netflix’s first anime commissions and most known for its use of CG characters. Before you flinch, the CG isn’t anywhere near the level of Berserk 2016. For one, keeping the environments in 2D was a wise decision. The characters still don’t look great, mind you. The problem with CG characters is that parts of the model are too smooth, such as the mouth, and the smooth animation later chopped to 24 frames-per-second doesn’t blend well. In 2D animation, the mouth will jump from one position to the next – perhaps with an ‘in-between’ position – but in CG, the mouth moves from start-frame to end-frame in a smooth motion, which doesn’t look right. It’s smooth, yet choppy at the same time. For a look at how to use CG for 2D animation, I cannot recommend this video enough on how they did the graphics for Guilty Gear Xrd (skip to 33:55 if you don’t want to watch the full hour).

The CG will likely prejudice most anime fans, not giving the rest of the series a chance. But let’s imagine you don’t mind the CG – what of the story?

Ajin: Demi-Human revolves around humans called ‘Ajin’ that can regenerate, paralyse with a scream, and summon Black Ghosts to vanquish enemies. Humanity fears their powers. To be an Ajin is to live in perpetual hiding, hated by all. Upstanding student Kei walks in front of a truck one day, only to get up from a pool of his blood to see black matter issuing from his skin. He is an Ajin. And so starts his life on the run, distrustful of everyone around him and with nowhere to go. However, an old friend comes to his aid.

The story starts strong, pitching us headfirst into the Ajin situation with intense action and tension as everyone and their mum wants Kei. Not dead, funnily enough, because the bounty for capture is immense and there is the whole matter of immortality.

On the opposing team, we have government worker Tosaki and his secretly Ajin partner working to control the superhuman threat. He tries too hard to sound tough. When witnessing Ajin immortality experimentation through torture at a research facility, he threatens his partner to do as he says or this would happen to her, even though she already does anything he wants. What’s the point of the threat? He also sabotages the research organisation for reason that don’t make much sense in an attempt, I assume, to paint him as tough and independent.

However, this is nothing compared to the true villain, Sato the old man Ajin. Every line out of this guy is bravado and metaphors about war and video games. Never have I seen a series want you to find a villain intimidating so badly, yet keep failing and trying with the next scene. He could have been interesting with his manipulation of Kei, turning him against humanity, and his acts for Ajin rights and compassion from the public. Sadly, the bravado overpowers it all. Season 2 is particularly bad for this.

As for Kei, he’s an average protagonist without much personality going for him. He also can’t seem to decide on his motivations and allegiances. For example, when Sato is breaking him out of the research facility, Kei switches to protecting the researchers from Sato, who wants to kill them all. These people just tore his teeth out, severed his fingers, and drilled his skull for ten days and he instantly wants to help them? The first thing one researcher says is a promise to get him back on the torture slab! Kei isn’t a smart kid despite his intensive studying (what a shocker).

Even with all of these problems, Ajin: Demi-Human is never boring thanks to its fast pace and conflict against the world. It’s much better than the CG gives it credit for.

Art – Low

Ajin’s mix of CG characters and 2D backgrounds looks much better than the likes of Berserk 2016, yet still has a long way to go.

Sound – Low

The villains’ dialogue needs an overhaul and different actors. Season 2 OP and ED are torture. The rest of the music is good however – intense.

Story – Low

Kei develops superpowers marked as one of the ‘Ajin’, which turns humanity against him. A strong start veers off course into a second season dominated by a rubbish villain that tries too hard.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Try it. Most viewers won’t give Ajin: Demi-Human a try due to the CG, but the intense man vs. world story is entertaining enough.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive: None

Negative:

Awful Dialogue

F-Zero: GP Legend– Anime Review

Japanese Title: F-Zero: Falcon Densetsu

 

Similar: Redline

Initial D

Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Racing Sports Science Fiction Action

Length: 51 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Some good design elements.

Negatives:

  • The art quality!
  • Surprisingly low energy for the fastest racer ever.

(Request an anime for review here.)

I want you to look at the screenshots below and take a guess at the year of release for F-Zero: GP Legend. Or at least think of anime that you believe came out around the same time.

Have an answer in mind? 1992 alongside Sailor Moon? 1997 with Pokémon? You’re thinking far too early. F-Zero: GP Legend came out in 2003 – late 2003… It blew my mind when I realised this, which was only after I had finished the series. The whole time I thought I was watching something that would have been wedged between Sailor Moon and Dragonball Z during my morning cartoon block, had it ever been localised.

To give you context of how bad this looks for the time, know that Fullmetal Alchemist, Gungrave, and Planetes came out in the same season. Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex came out a year earlier and looked great even with CG animation. What happened? Did they make GP Legend ten years earlier but forgot about it until an intern, charged with clearing the archive room, found the reels caked in dust below a shaft of musty light? He blew off the years of neglect and back rushed memories of his favourite racing game? I’d love to know the answer.

Speaking of forgotten for many years, Ryu Suzaku (Rick Wheeler in English) enters cryo-freeze for 150 years after an accident during a car chase with the villain Zoda. Jody Summer wakes Ryu from his slumber to join her special police unit comprised of pro racers. In the future world of Mute City – formerly New York City – lightning-fast racing dominates the entertainment and gambling scene and the special unit must keep the prize money out of villainous hands. You could focus on getting into the villains’ lair instead, but whatever.

Ryu adjusts and functions surprisingly well for a guy who just woke up after 150 years. (Shame they didn’t look to Demolition Man for inspiration. I love that movie.) The story quality matches the early 90’s art. Early episodes are a villain of the week format that incorporates racing, pitting Ryu against/alongside one of many racers from the games such as Samurai Goroh. The plot goes deeper after that, though not by much. The characters are a varied and unusual bunch, which does make events a tad more interesting. One guy looks like Mario auditioning for the fifth Tellytubby in white.

You’ll notice that I’ve made no mention of Captain Falcon, the character everyone associates the games with even if they have never played them. In GP Legend, he is the legend and therefore isn’t part of the story very much. Ryu is firmly the protagonist.

With 51 episodes of this artistic quality and bland story, it takes an iron stomach or being a super-fan to complete F-Zero: GP Legend.

 

Art – Very Low

I cannot believe this was made in 2003. Take an N64, increase the anti-aliasing, and you have yourself F-Zero: GP Legend. It looks better elsewhere, but this is a cheap anime. The world and cars have good design intentions.

Sound – Low

F-Zero’s electronic music is present, yet a pale imitation of the games’ soundtracks. The acting is typical morning cartoon fare.

Story – Low

A police detective wakes up 150 years in the future after an accident and works with an elite task force to stop villains through racing. F-Zero: GP Legend is more a low-energy villain of the week series than a racer to boring results.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Skip it. Unless you are the biggest Captain Falcon fan, F-Zero: GP Legend has nothing for you.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive: None

Negative:

Ugly Artistic Design

Anime and Manga Reviews