Zegapain – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Zegapain

 

Similar: RahXephon

Fafner of the Blue Sky

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Mecha Action Science Fiction Romance

Length: 26 episodes

 

Positives:

  • A premise worth watching for.

Negatives:

  • Just about everything else.

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Look at any poster, video or screenshot of Zegapain. It looks like trash. It requires effort to make characters this generic and to have mecha designs this ugly. This doesn’t happen by accident. The dialogue is just as you imagine accompanying that art. So why would a reader recommend I review Zegapain, likening it to RahXephon in the process? I was even more confused after the first episode – one of anime’s worst starts.

It opens on protagonist Kyo having to kiss a guy disguised as a girl for a student film by his friend Ryoko. He refuses, notices a buxom babe on the high dive outside, strips to his Speedos, and charges off to meet her. (Does he always wear swimmers instead of underwear?) His enthusiasm comes from finding a new recruit to his dying swim club. Next thing he knows, he’s part of a conference call with the military. The girl, Misaki, puts his hand on her boob, pulls him into her chest, and they teleport aboard a mech. (Right…) She tells him to treat the battle like a VR game. I laughed when the mech warns of incoming enemies, but Misaki praises Kyo for spotting them so quickly – girl, he didn’t do anything! He fights perfectly without training. Though there is more to his story, it’s still a cataclysmically stupid idea to bring him to the front line. A better writer would sell the situation.

Before first episode’s end, it is evident that the characters have no depth – I imagine the brainstorm session took five minutes. Only a couple have goals and motivations. The battle tech is a bunch of ‘stuff’ doing ‘things’ cobbled together without thought of how this works or how it came to be.

Needless to say, but Zegapain seems like a bottom-dwelling anime at this point.

However, after a few more battles of floaty CG and meaningless action, Kyo finds a glitch on the battlefield. A message tells him not to believe his world. And that’s where things start to get interesting. We have a Matrix situation here, except he can’t be sure of which world is reality. If his high school is virtual, then who are all these people? And how did the outside world turn to ruin? More and more mysteries unfold as the plot develops, resulting in an intriguing storyline. I’m as astonished as you are.

Of course, it doesn’t erase the fact that the script seems randomly generated or that the characters are surface deep, but this one strength is enough for me to enjoy Zegapain to the end.

Kyo is still a bad protagonist. He’s far too accepting of everything for the convenience of the writer’s laziness. He teleports suddenly from school to the battleship thanks to a gizmo in his forehead, is about to ask where the gizmo came from and how he got it, when he says, “Ah, whatever, it got me here after all.” Even more reason to question it, you idiot! And what is the obsession with returning to this swim club subplot every episode? It doesn’t matter! Hell, why swimming? It isn’t realistic that a swim club in the heat of Japan’s summer would struggle for members. It’s for Misaki in the swimsuit, isn’t it?

Several episodes that lean more slice of life are a waste of time as well and the antagonists are as weak as the heroes. Despite all these faults, something about the reality versus virtual reality plot gets me. It just gets me.

Zegapain is a hidden gem— well, gem is a bit much. More like a peculiar stone on the riverbank with an unusual texture that a few will find interesting.

Art – Very Low

Zegapain approaches Hand Shakers level of CG with its mechs. Furthermore, why make them CG if you aren’t going to take advantage of the easier animation tools? What was the point? The regular art has zero creativity and even randomly drops in quality on occasion.

Sound –Low

The voice actors do the best they can with this bad script. I think the music came royalty free.

Story – Medium

A teen has to distinguish between reality and the virtual world amidst an alien occupation and high school troubles. The characters and action may have no merit, but the plots works well.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Give it a chance. Zegapain is most engaging if you can enjoy a good story in the face of weak characters and ugly art.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Horrendous ActionUgly Artistic Design

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Made in Abyss – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Made in Abyss

 

Similar: From the New World

Hunter x Hunter

Haibane Renmei

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Mystery Science Fiction Fantasy Adventure

Length: 13 episodes

 

Positives:

  • The world.
  • Final episodes.
  • Stunning artwork.

Negatives:

  • Protagonist never shuts up.
  • Forced cuteness.
  • Several episodes of padding.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Imagine a world with a city built around a vast and seemingly endless chasm filled with monsters and treasures untold. This world is grand, gorgeous— a mysterious place that echoes silence and danger. Now imagine a shrill voice piercing that world for eternity. That is Made in Abyss.

This noise machine is Riko, a 12-year-old girl that wants to become a Cave Raider like her famous mother. She never stops talking. If another character isn’t talking, then she certainly is. The writer had her comment on everything. An energy blast out of nowhere fends off a monster about to eat her and she gives a line that someone must have saved her. No shit. She doesn’t ask, “What was that?” because it would mean less words. These ‘stating the obvious’ lines along with an inordinate amount of forced cuteness dialogue permeate the series.

Episode one does not have a moment of peace until the 20-minute mark. It lasts 18 seconds.

False enthusiasm constitutes half her character. As she searches for relics to bring back to town, she must keep telling us how enthusiastic she is while “cutely” tripping over and getting into accidents. It’s not enough that we can see enthusiasm. Oh no, she must tell us all about it. Made in Abyss desperately wants you to find Riko cute, at the expense of all else. Most of the humour falls flat because of how rammed down your throat it is. “Is she cute? I asked, is she cute!? IS SHE CUTE!?”

These characters are in this vast, mysterious world and instead of allowing the audience to take it in, the camera stays on this annoying girl. She does ease up a little later. However, various characters along the journey expositing on the Abyss replace her chirping. We almost spend more time hearing about the Abyss than exploring it, which leads to another problem with the script. The first nine episodes have three episodes’ worth of content – the first four could have fit into one episode. Unlike usual slow pacing where scenes drag on forever, Made in Abyss slots pointless scenes between events that matter. With all this excess space, why not include moments to reflect on the world and the adventure? Of course it has to be forced cuteness and pointless dialogues instead.

Riko’s descent into the Abyss begins when a Cave Raider returns to the surface with her mother’s white whistle (denotes rank) and a message that she is waiting below. Riko, who idolises her mother, answers the call and begins the journey with Reg, the robot boy that saved her with the energy blast earlier.

He is a bit of a problem in the story due to his ability to stretch his arms with ease and accuracy, which trivialises the danger of falling into the depths, and his arm cannon can obliterate the monsters that make the Abyss so dangerous. Made in Abyss still has tension, but you will realise how much easier several moments would be if the writer didn’t conveniently forget Reg’s power.

Along their journey, they face monsters and meet a variety of characters, most of which aren’t particularly interesting. One supposedly scary woman, a legend and partner to Riko’s mother, is a walking cliché of the mad woman with the low, insane voice. No one actually believes she would harm the kids, do they? Her scenario comes from a writer out of ideas for conflict during downtime.

Thankfully, characters become more interesting the further we descend into the Abyss. In fact, the whole anime is more interesting further down. The final three episodes are better than the previous 10 combined. The final episode is better than the previous 12 combined. The change in story and character quality is like a parabola, redeeming the show, though there are great elements before the final act. Most obviously, the world is fantastic, not just in the intrigue of the Abyss. The human society is fascinating because it isn’t like ours. You notice how mediocre anime in different worlds like Re:Zero still have people that feel as if they are from our world? No one acts medieval in those medieval worlds. Made in Abyss’s society is one shaped by the Abyss. There is no greater honour than being a Cave Raider that brings back the best relics. Everyone knows that once you go down you’re probably not coming back and yet it is still celebrated. Even a child descending isn’t particularly odd. It reminds of Spartan society where a warrior child is the norm, not the exception.

My favourite world building detail is that of the Curse. Reaching a certain level is a point of no return, as to ascend again would be to active the ‘Curse’, dooming any diver. The hardy can survive in the depths, assuming the increasingly powerful monsters don’t eat them. The origin and extent of the Curse is the mystery I am most eager to see answered.

Answers – Made in Abyss doesn’t give many of those and as such, its final quality is hard to determine. Most anime – any story, honestly – shows you its quality within a few episodes. That’s not to say there won’t be fluctuations, but typically, a good anime starts that way. You know it’s good from the beginning. However, for stories that hinge on the Great Mystery, the end can make or break everything. If the payoff doesn’t deliver, then all that came before has little value. Made in Abyss is one such story.

As such, my thoughts are temporary and I will write a new review after the series conclusion, to see how it all comes together. It could go either way.

Art – High

The backgrounds are stunning – out of Ghibli or Shinkai works. The animation, sadly, doesn’t stand out and the quality drops after a few episodes.

Sound – Medium

Great OP song – sounds like Seal’s ‘Kissed from a Rose’. The acting is fine, insufferable protagonist aside, but the script is at least 30% padded.

Story – Medium

An abyss of unknown depth calls to a child when her mother sends a message from the deep below. This first season of Made in Abyss sets up a mysterious world and delivers a great finale in spite of prior padding; however, everything hinges on the payoff that has yet to come. Do note that the last episode is the best, so the trajectory is upwards.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Wait for another season. Made in Abyss, as it stands, is 99% setup, the first five episodes of other shows, and while the setup is great by episode 13, if it doesn’t pay off next season, then it isn’t worth it. Few anime need a complete adaptation as much as Made in Abyss does. Knowing the modern anime industry, expect to finish with the manga. Let’s hope MIA doesn’t take on its classical meaning…

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

Positive: N/A (pending further seasons)

Negative: N/A (pending further seasons)

Metropolis – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Metropolis

 

Similar: Akira

Ghost in the Shell

Steamboy

Casshern Sins

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Adventure Drama Science Fiction Romance

Length: 1 hr. 49 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • Some truly magnificent art.
  • City design.

Negatives:

  • Character motivations and personalities aren’t interesting.
  • Art over story.
  • Plodding pace.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Metropolis adapts the 1949 manga of the same name from the creator of Astro Boy (hence the character designs), Osamu Tezuka, who based this story on a single image of the famous 1927 Metropolis silent film. As such, despite sharing a name and setting, the two versions have little in common.

The city of Metropolis rose to greatness thanks to leaps and bounds in technological advancements. Robots have replaced much of the manual labour and menial tasks. However, what should have been a utopia of man and machine, has turned into a class war. Robots are second-class citizens, attacked and destroyed by rioters on a daily basis. They cannot venture beyond their designated zones. Japanese detective Shunsaku and his nephew Kenichi arrive in town on the trail of an organ trafficking case, but the master of Metropolis, Duke Red, has plans involving a robot girl of his creation that throws them off track.

Metropolis draws you in with its city design. Life bustles and clanks along on every corner and in every alley, creating a sense of wonder and a desire to see more. But a film is about story, and it’s not long before you start to ask where this elusive feature has gone. Every character moves in every scene – it never stops to sit down and show us motion within characters. More scenes go towards showing us the world and all the fancy art techniques used than towards developing characters. Art came over story.

The plodding pace of the first act is manageable thanks to the world, though once in the second act and the pace is still like gears grinding together, it becomes difficult to pay attention. The heroes are your standard good guys, which is obviously not ideal, yet I believe the true problem lies with the antagonists. The Duke is your typical Big Boss Villain atop the Tower, residing in the background for the most part (why does he look like a cockatoo?). The other is his adopted son, Rock. He goes after the robot girl, intent on destroying her out of jealousy. The Duke lost his daughter and would rather create an artificial replacement over accepting Rock. His daddy issues aren’t interesting because they lack a foundation to make us care or see them as a problem. We have a few brief interactions between father and son that serve to advance plot, not deepen character. One could say the same for much of the cast. They are tools to the story, nothing more.

The third act finally gets it together to give us action atop the highest skyscraper, which makes for a spectacular and tense set piece. Emotion and character enter the spotlight as the truth behind the robot girl comes out. The Duke reached for the sun in his beloved city and it went beyond his control. He constructed his tower too high and it fell so far. You may notice this as an adaptation of the Tower of Babel, and you’d be right – Metropolis outright states this. Some subtlety would be nice.

I love art as much as anyone does, but story is more important. Metropolis has plenty of the former and mere morsels of the latter.

Art – Very High

Tezuka’s Astro Boy character art of Popeye biceps and effeminate curls on everyone has never looked good to me. It doesn’t hold up, nor does the once spectacular CG for several scenes. I was going to give the art a High rating, until the finale blew me away. It’s magnificent.

Sound – Medium

The acting is fine in either language, while the music is serviceable. The finale song is the only standout.

Story – Low

A detective and his nephew become involved in the plight of a robot girl amidst a technologically advanced city. Metropolis put nine out of ten energy cells into the art, leaving a blinking check engine light for the characters and plot.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For art fans. Metropolis is an engaging time if great art alone can sustain your enjoyment.

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

Positive:

Stunning Art Quality

Negative:

No Development

Key the Metal Idol – Anime Review

Japanese Title: KEY THE METAL IDOL

 

Similar: Chobits

Serial Experiments Lain

Ghost in the Shell

Video Girl Ai

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Science Fiction Music Drama

Length: 15 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Eerie tone.

Negatives:

  • A ‘Nothing’ protagonist.
  • 30,000 friends to become human.
  • Villain’s plan.
  • Out of its depth.

(Request an anime for review here.)

In his dying message, an old man tells his robot granddaughter, Key, that she can turn human if she makes 30,000 friends. She has until her battery runs out. Key becomes enamoured with pop idol Miho and desires to be a singer herself, believing she will gain the requisite friends through the big stage.

I can’t be the only one who thinks that 30,000 friends as the secret to becoming a ‘real girl’ is ridiculous. What an odd solution. I wonder if they considered that for Pinocchio in 1883. Believe it or not, Key the Metal Idol does find a way to justify the mass friend request gimmick, but that doesn’t make it any less illogical. If you can’t accept this goal, then stop the anime right there – the story doesn’t get better.

When all you need is 30,000 friends, I’d say going on TV as an automaton would do the trick. If people can create fan clubs from their favourite waifu, then a real android would have millions of adoring fans. She certainly doesn’t try to be discrete about her identity, so what the hell, go for it.

Before aiming at pop-stardom, Key finds herself roped into an adult video company. Hey, the producer wasn’t lying – she would receive many “friends” in a short time. Just sayin’. Thankfully, her friend Sakura rescues her from the casting couch. The adult video producer pursues her since. Key later becomes the faith healer of a cult, which is admittedly quite humorous (and the cult leader looks like the drunk boxing coach from Tomorrow’s Joe). Once another friend rescues her, the cult is now in pursuit as well.

Key the Metal Idol takes a while to reach its main plot of her trying to become a pop star (I thought this was a subplot for act one). The narrative is often distracted by subplots tangentially related to Key. She feels like a supporting character in her own series until the finale.

Once the main plot does begin, the conflicts stem from the choreographer obsessed with her, and from the evil robot scientists that wants the secret behind her autonomy beyond any other android. She is said to contain an immense amount ‘Gel’ (android power source). The main villain seems…special. Let me see if I understand you rightly, Mr Villain. You have created robots that pass for human and have complete remote control features, and your grand plan is to make a pop music group? Are you sure your PhD is real?

From the adult video producer to the scientist, all the villains are corny one-note characters, stereotypes. “I am evil!” yelled the mad scientist. “I am abusive!” yelled the abusive artist.

Key the Metal Idol’s best quality, if I had to give you one, is its eerie feel. From Key’s wide, unblinking eyes to the muted, unwavering music contrasted by the pop songs, the atmosphere does convey the feel of a child in a dangerous adult world. A better protagonist could have taken this atmosphere and chilled you to the bone.

Emotionless characters in anime rarely work. Rather than give us a pitiable character to care for, these writers give us empty characters with no personality for us to accept as deep. However, the ‘Nothing’ character is usually part of the supporting cast (50% of harems have one). In Key the Metal Idol, the Nothing is protagonist. You can see what the writer wanted. He expected us to feel for Key, similar to her inspirator Pinocchio, an innocent child lost in the dark world of reality as nefarious entities seek her power. But with no personality, this is like asking me to care for a gun in an action movie. There is no emotion to latch onto. We do see attempts at bridging a connection between her and the audience. For example, she drinks water in episode one in an attempt to fit in with the other school kids, despite it damaging her systems. The presentation— in fact, the presentation of this anime as whole, lacks style and weight to affect the audience. Even within the confines of Key as she is, the story doesn’t use her well.

I commend the team for trying, but it tackles subjects far beyond its ability. Key the Metal Idol is out of its depth.

Art – Low

The animation is surprisingly good for the time, but the cels weren’t lined up well, which results in screen jitter. For those who may not know, traditional animation uses cels (short for ‘celluloid’) with the background and each character painted on separate transparent layers. To make sure the cels align for each frame of photography, they have ‘registration holes’ on the edges (out of frame) that give consistent placement. I’m wondering if Key the Metal Idol used registration holes because every layer jitters more often than acceptable. It feels like they guessed the positioning of frames.

Sound – Low

Key is better in English – actually sounds like a robot in both cadence and filter – but the Japanese takes the rest. I like that they redid the music in English for the dub. It works within context.

Story – Low

Should an android make 30,000 friends before her battery runs out, she will become human. Key the Metal Idol reaches too far and the goal slips through its fingers.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: For Serial Experiments Lain fans. I don’t know any better way to describe who will enjoy this anime. If you like that “oddness” and not-quite-there cohesion, then Key the Metal Idol may just be for you.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Incoherent

Toradora! – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Toradora

 

Similar: Great Teacher Onizuka

Lovely Complex

Kids on the Slope

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Slice of Life Comedy Romance

Length: 25 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Dynamic between main characters.
  • Consistently funny.
  • A touch of heart.

Negatives:

  • Still very much like other high school anime.
  • Tries too hard to make Taiga seem tough at times.
  • Weak theme songs.

(Request an anime for review here.)

In a world where everyone has large anime eyes, Ryuuji’s narrow eyes and pinpoint irises mark him as a thug, the worst kind of thug, a thug that is…nice. Taiga is a doll of a girl, tiny, cute, and a bundle rage that hates her public image of a fragile midget. As is natural, these two opposites collide and help set each other up with their crushes – Ryuuji likes Taiga’s best friend, while Taiga likes his best friend. And they’re neighbours. What a coincidence! But could it be that they are meant to be with each other? Find out in Toradora!

I have watched too much anime. Watching Toradora, I realised I had seen it all before several times, though not to this anime’s fault. I have to shift my mindset if I want to analyse it fairly. Ever wonder why all of those atrocious games journalists think “artsy” indie games are masterpieces? It’s because they’ve played too many games and those faux-deep indies are something different from the popular titles. Something different can instil a false sense of quality to a lazy “critic”. Ironically, they probably haven’t played enough games or they would have experienced the inspirators already. I never want to be in that cesspool.

So, to give Toradora a fair chance – or honestly, any art a fair chance – I look at its own merits. Of course, part of that merit is to see if it learnt from its predecessors. You can’t release a story without character development and claim it’s a masterpiece just because that’s how stories were thousands of years ago. It is important to note that nothing in fiction is original. Nothing. Instead, what we mean by originality is how an artwork brings all its pieces together and at what skill level.

Alright, Toradora has the ‘opposites attract’ main couple, and its initial plot is the ‘help each other find love, only to realise it was beside us all along’ type. I am sure that all of you, dear readers, can think of several stories to have these two tropes. However, these two together is rarer. The more you mix elements, the more ‘original’ something feels. (Keep in mind not to be different for the sake of being different.) Toradora uses these two elements to great comedic results.

Ryuuji and Taiga concoct ridiculous schemes to pair the other up with his/her crush. Ryuuji knocks out his friend in sports class and takes the friend to the med bay so Taiga can spend time with him. Genius plan! She could just ask him, but noooooo… (Where have I written that before…?) I love the ludicrousness of anime romantic comedies.

One episode has Taiga give her love letter to the wrong guy. Hell, she doesn’t even put the letter in the envelope. It would be sad if it weren’t so funny. Everything goes wrong when her breast padding slips out in the school swimming pool. No one can know she is flat. I do have a problem with how hard they try to make her seem tough sometimes. It weakens the joke.

The supporting cast complements the main, particularly Taiga’s best friend/Ryuuji’s crush, reminiscent of Kill la Kill’s Mako (or rather, vice versa). I love that cheerleader type sidekick and wouldn’t say no to more of them.

Toradora isn’t without its touches of drama. The core theme of finding and being honest about yourself works well in bringing conflict amidst the comedy. One drama subplot that falls flat involves Taiga’s absentee father. He storms back into her life making promises, only to leave her disappointed. The subplot lacks impact (like her father, aye?) and could have gone further. It’s a minor point, regardless.

The ending plot is a bit…odd, but oddness is the hallmark of anime. And the end is rather sweet.

Alright, I’m going to leave it here. I have my first moment of free time in three months, so I finally have the opportunity to play some games. Reviews should be back to routine as well.

Art – High

Good character designs – distinctive protagonists. I wish the rest had the same level of effort. The animation is nice too.

Sound – High

Good voice work. The same actress voices taiga’s best friend and Mako from Kill la Kill for a hilarious sidekick. I didn’t like any of the theme songs in the slightest.

Story – High

A guy that looks like a thug and doll-like midget girl try to break free of the prejudice of others. Toradora mixes humour, heart, and a touch of drama to make a solid high school anime.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: A must for high school anime fans. If you haven’t seem much of the genre, then Toradora will likely impress. However, if you are familiar, then you won’t find much new here. Good series nonetheless.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

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