Vandread was the other anime from my ‘Watched but Not Reviewed’ list that I was tempted to revisit. Though unlike Scryed, which I surmised would still be good, Vandread was certain to be trash. But is it glorious trash?
In the future as presented by Vandread, men and women live on separate planets, able to reproduce through cloning to fuel the endless war between the two. Women are monsters who eat men, say the men! Men are savage barbarians, say the women! Generations of no in-person contact have led to the growth of demonising myths about the opposing sides. At the launch of the men’s new Vanguard battleship, low-class labourer Hibiki sneaks aboard to steal a mech, but finds himself captured by pirate women in a surprise attack. Oh no, they’re going to eat him! However, the battle created a wormhole, sucking the Vanguard and pirate ship into distant space, where the men and women must work together to survive.
These women aren’t part of female society anymore. The vanity war between women on their home planet made them strike out on their own to become something better. As for the men, Hibiki had no status on his world, the doctor wants to help others regardless of faction, and the Vanguard pilot finally has a purpose. An easy bond forms between the groups. The core theme of becoming something greater than your birth persists throughout every character arc.
Vandread is light-hearted – I mean, an episode is all about setting up the Christmas party – so set expectations to low.
The screen time alternates between space battles and comedy. The battles are terrible – don’t just mean the visuals – and aren’t worth paying attention to. The comedy largely plays on basic gender stereotypes in a fun manner. Main girl Dita is obsessed by aliens and calls Hibiki ‘Alien-san’ as she stalks him around the ship – she wants to confirm if rumours about men having a hose between their legs is true. Conveniently for her, his mech functions better with both of them inside yet has a single seat, forcing her to sit on his lap.
This isn’t a harem, surprisingly. I am amazed they resisted the temptation with a 5-to-1 ratio of men to women in the cast all aboard a single ship. That one choice makes Vandread much more enjoyable as a bad anime.
Vandread is as silly as it sounds. I used to like this show when I had seen a handful of anime. Now? The silliness is still fun in a bad way, but I find myself unable to care once the second season starts. A single season is enough. It looks like arse too, which tests the tolerance of your eyes.
Art – Very Low
All the CG for the ships and mechs looks awful. Character designs suck – the protagonist is a walking cliché of the era. He has many shounen anime clones.
Sound – Low
The script is rubbish and the voice work is average, yet is fun because no one takes the material seriously.
Story – Very Low
In a universe where men and women live on different planets, female space pirates capture three men and find themselves teaming up to combat forces from all sides. Vandread is stupid in every facet in the right way to make it fun.
Overall Quality – Very Low
Recommendation: For fans of bad anime. If you don’t want to think and need to veg out, Vandread is the perfect remedy with its silliness.
I had wanted to watch Violet Evergarden ever since the release of the stunning trailer (above) two years ago. There was no indication as to the contents of the story, but if the series had art and animation half as good as the trailer, then I’d be interested.
I am pleased to say that the art and animation are better than half as good as the trailer, while the story is unexpected. It tells of Violet Evergarden, a former child soldier with mechanical arms in a post-WWI-esque setting, who has to find a new purpose in life now that she has no orders to follow, enemies to kill, or someone to protect. Her life thus far has left her emotionally void. She receives opportunity to fix that when she meets the “Auto Memory Dolls” – letter typists that transcribe a customer’s emotions to the page. Perhaps, given enough time through learning from the emotions of others, she may come to understand the meaning of her major’s final words: “I love you.”
Violet is a blunt girl, unaware of the feelings of others, as is understandable. She writes without heart. When someone confides in her, such as an emotional problem, she doesn’t hesitate to tell others when asked, not realising it should remain private without instruction. She is also rather one note and the weakest element of the series. This wouldn’t be such a problem if Violet Evergarden weren’t an entirely character driven story. Despite the war backstory, expect little action outside two or three episodes. Everything else is about Violet and her interactions with colleagues at the postal service, clients, and a few auxiliary characters.
Her description should remind Full Metal Panic viewers of Sargent Sagara, a child soldier also of little emotion. My readers will know too that I love that character. So why not Violet? She lacks the counterbalance that makes Sagara such a great protagonist. Sagara is deathly serious (often literally) yet unexpectedly hilarious. Violet is just serious.
Now, comedy on the level of FMP wouldn’t fit the tone of Evergarden, so that isn’t the right solution (though a little more levity wouldn’t have gone amiss). Instead, other characters should have shown more emotion and humour in response to her serious behaviour. Her colleagues and clients take her actions too normally. People don’t display enough shock or laughter at some of the things she does. At most, a few clients get angry because she translates their feelings too literally onto paper, such as not getting the hint that one woman wants to play coy with her suitor before accepting his proposal. If done, this would allow Violet to react (and develop) at the reception of her actions. In improvisational acting/comedy, a scene works when one actor initiates for the other to react, which allows the first actor to react in turn, followed by the other again, and back and forth it goes until they have extracted all material. But imagine if one started the scene, only for the other to give a response that doesn’t facilitate further reaction. The scene would end there with nothing worthwhile. Violet is that full stop in interactions all too often.
She does develop by the end and show emotion – enough to avoid the label of a bad or boring character, certainly – but it’s not at a level to make a compelling protagonist.
Where Evergarden finds success is in the supporting cast, particularly the clients. Dolls will travel to wherever the client should require them, allowing us to see much of the country in which she lives and giving the art team an excuse to create more wondrous environments. The clients range from a princess in love to an astronomer that needs help copying rare books. Then there’s her colleagues, such as Iris the country girl whose family wants her to return to the village, quit her job, and get married, much to her protestations. Each of their stories tie into Violet’s theme, as it should be in every story, of understanding emotion. A highlight is episode 10 when she writes letters for a mother and daughter. I truly enjoyed these episodic arcs.
They, alongside the visuals and music, made Violet Evergarden an easy series to finish. I love everything about Violet Evergarden except for Violet herself. Hell, I even love the idea of Violet. Her execution is the problem. This good anime contained potential for greatness, had Violet received slight tweaks that would have opened her up to movement and depth.
Art – Very High
Disgustingly beautiful art and animation in many scenes. Violet Evergarden is not quite movie level consistence, as it does resort to static characters at times, though it never lingers. I love the character designs and attention given to the fashion.
Sound – High
Strong acting and a lovely instrumental soundtrack complement the story and visuals.
Story – Medium
A child soldier learns the meaning of emotion through writing letters on behalf of clients. The supporting cast and their sub plots help prop up a mediocre protagonist in Violet Evergarden.
Overall Quality – High
Recommendation: Try it. Violet Evergarden is worth a shot for the art alone – could be enough to carry you to the end. However, Violet as a character may cause some viewers to lose interest after a few episodes. Watch episode 10 if you only have time for one.
I don’t have much to say on A Place Further than the Universe, which comes as a pleasant change after Hunter x Hunter’s review.
It is a story about spirit and youth. Mari feels trapped in her ordinary Japanese life and craves to do something impulsive, go on an adventure! But after she chicken’s out on an impromptu adventure, all seems set to return to normal – that is until she meets Shirase, a girl determined to go to Antarctica, where her mother went missing. A third girl joins them soon. However, not just anyone can go on an Antarctic expedition, especially not a trio of high school kids. Their ticket to the frozen land appears in the form of Yuzuki. If they can convince this idol to go, they can accompany her as companions.
Like all anime about cute girls, acting cute is a top priority for the characters and the main reason I’m not into these shows. Cuteness doesn’t bother me – it’s the forced cuteness. The first scene has Mari suddenly bawl her eyes out in front of her mother, which I assume is meant to be cute, but is just immature. Not even an infant would act this way. The difference between A Place Further than the Universe and Girls’ Last Tour, where the cuteness worked for me, is in how much they draw attention to it. Here, the girls have these overreactions and pantomime-like performances as if to say, “Look at me – I’m cute! You agree, right?” The girls in Last Tour simply are cute, so they don’t have to demand your attention every few minutes.
This immaturity, often from Mari, is a recurring annoyance and seems to replace story and development for act one. Act two is a little more interesting as they train and prepare for the expedition. It’s still too much “cute girls being cute”, but the Antarctic knowledge from a mature adult character improves matters. The episodes aren’t bad, though I routinely found my focus slipping, only to snap back a few minutes later and realise I was still watching this anime.
The Antarctic portion doesn’t start until act three. At last, the girls have things to do other than act cute and seeing daily life in the Antarctic is fascinating – how a ship breaks through the ice, how supplies come in, sunburn, the dangers of a blizzard, and so on. There isn’t any great disaster for them to contend with – things are still light-hearted – but it’s more than just the girls now, as it should have been from the start. It also closes Shirase’s arc in the search for her mother in a heartfelt and satisfying way. The third act is far superior to what came previous and as such, leaves you with a positive impression.
Fans of cute girls anime will love this more than I did, of that I have no doubt. A Place Further than the Universe doesn’t pretend to anything beyond its initial impression. It doesn’t lie, bait, or emotionally manipulate you. It’s about high school girls going on an adventure to Antarctica with a lot of silliness and a touch of emotion. And that’s fine.
Art – High
This anime’s strongest quality, the art, uses bright colours and pure white highlights to complement the energetic and uplifting feel of the story.
Sound – Medium
The acting is alright – a little overdone to the point of becoming pantomime at times.
Story – Medium
A group of high school girls set their adventurous hearts on reaching Antarctica to accomplish something with their youth. A Place Further than the Universe keeps things light, which does limit depth and makes it hard to keep paying attention, but the end is strong enough to leave on a good note.
Overall Quality – Medium
Recommendation: For fans of the cute girls doing things genre. We’ve had cute girls in bands, in tanks, on battleships, and now in Antarctica. Fans of the genre are spoilt for choice!
Hunter x Hunter is purported to be different from other shounen battle anime. Let’s start by dispelling this notion, as it only sets up false expectations and ultimate disappointment.
Like all battle anime, Hunter x Hunter (don’t pronounce the x) is about a kid with big dreams. This time, we follow Gon Freecss, a boy in search of the father that abandoned him and his mother. To that end, he must become a hunter like his father before him in the belief that the profession will open new avenues of investigation.
Naturally, the story starts with Gon taking the exam to become a hunter. And here we hit the first brick wall. The Hunter Exam is tunnel-through-the-mountain boring! The exam is just one fake out after another.
Gon lives on an island, so must travel by ship to the mainland. Little does he know that the crossing is part of the test. Once ashore, he asks for directions to the exam, except the false directions are also part of the test. Then it’s an old lady with riddles, followed by a secret password into the exam site. But wait, that isn’t the site. We have to run a marathon first to get there! Watching people run, how riveting. Alright, are we done yet? No, we need to cook some barbeque. (Just kill me now.) And on, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on, (did I mention the recap episode halfway?), and on, and on…and on it goes for 21 episodes of boring task after boring task. This exam is every idea the author came up with dragged on for eternity. Why not pick the best three ideas and make something engaging of them? It serves no purpose other than to introduce characters, which could have happened naturally later had the exam be removed (and most introductions don’t matter anyway – more on that later).
Could a 21-episode exam work? Certainly, if interesting. Narutomanaged it with the chunin exam using secret ninja techniques called “character development”, “meaningful conflict”, and “story progression”. Had the first episode of HxH been after this arc, all we would need is the narrator telling us, “This is Gon. He’s a hunter.” Twenty-one episodes saved. It’s the worst start to a shounen anime I’ve seen, barring the ones that had no potential to begin with. The arc isn’t filler, but it may as well be.
The plot next moves into a tournament arc, another common element of the genre. Gon and Killua have to fight to the top of a battle tower with hundreds of floors and millions in prize money. Matters get serious from the 200th floor onwards. Thankfully, we don’t have to watch all 200 floors – good performance leapfrogs contestants up faster.
The downfall of the tournament arc is the training sessions that eat up too much time between fights. HxH has a massive problem with over explaining its concepts and making them unnecessarily convoluted. This anime uses auras. If you’ve seen anything with aura powers before, you’ll get the point in a minute. HxH deems you too stupid to grasp it in less than hours of lectures. You can bet your savings that it will pause every fight for some long-winded explanation of X character’s power and strategy.
Training episodes suck because they have no plot nor any internal character growth. It isn’t a problem exclusive to this anime, yet these are particularly boring. Off the top of my head, only Bleach does them worse.
The first great moment occurs in episode 31 when Gon faces Hisoka, an interesting Pierrot-like villain, who values the challenge above all else and will go to extreme lengths for the greatest challenges, such as saving heroes with potential to contest him in future. He takes a keen interest in Gon. The exam introduced us to him and his villainy, but it all repeats here anyway. His power is a malleable aura compared to bubblegum that can manipulate targets with puppet strings, among other magician-type tricks. He’s a theatrical fighter that loves to put on a show.
Hisoka belongs to a villain group known as the Phantom Troupe, which leads into the next and best arc of the series. Gon and friends head to the big city to earn big bucks so they may buy a video game that will lead to his father. The Phantom Troupe arc succeeds where the others fail because it is all plot relevant and gives all main characters something to do, rather than forgetting half the team (more on that later). It also helps to have several interesting villains that pose a real threat. A highlight is the fight between Kurapika, the guy I confused for a girl in the artwork, and a villain. He is the revenge guy of the series, as there must be one in every shounen. Despite sharing much with others of his archetype, he works thanks to an interesting ability that cleverly explains how he can hope to match such powerful villains, but without overpowering him for the rest of the series. Shounens usually have to pull some convoluted nonsense to backpedal the power, such as Bleach with its moronic power resets.
At the end of this arc, 58 episodes in, I’m not blown away, yet it has been on an upward trajectory and I am convinced it’s only the good stuff from here.
Boy was I wrong.
The Greed Island arc that follows is somehow worse than the exam. Greed Island is the video game Gon seeks on his father’s trail. Players enter the game world and fight using cards with abilities. That’s right, we are in Yu-Gi-Oh now! It’s as dumb as it sounds. This arc was just an excuse for the author to cram in more convoluted mechanics and hours of idiots explaining how they work. If you want to see some of the worst pacing and exposition anime has to offer, watch the dodgeball game in this arc. Only masters of Zen can handle such trash.
The main villain for this period, a punk that blows people up with the power of cards, is pathetically dull. Much like the exam, this arc amounts to little more than wasting 17 episodes of your time. If I didn’t know better, I would believe this to be a filler arc.
Finally we come to the Chimera Ant arc, the longest at 61 episodes long, which tells of a species of dangerous human-creature hybrids that soon develop aura powers. The Hunter Association dispatches many hunters to deal with the threat.
The story has now gone from a big city, to a video game, and reached a monster slaying fantasy. Hunter x Hunter lacks focus. This review is so long because I feel as though I am reviewing three different anime at once. Watching this series gives the impression that the author had too many ideas and wanted them all to be in one story, jumping impatiently from one to the next. Remember the Big Bad Phantom Troupe? They’re barely relevant after their arc. That Yu-Gi-Oh garbage? Forget it ever existed. Arc after arc seems to wipe the relevance of the story that came previous. None suffer more than HxH’s characters.
Each arc dumps a boatload of new character on your lap for you to care about, only to take them away as soon as the arc ends. “What happened to that guy?” I kept asking myself. At the start, HxH presents a core group of four characters. Remember Kurapika of central importance against the Troupe? He’s barely in this. Oh yeah, there’s some guy called Leorio – you’ll know him as the tall guy you see on most cover art who receives enough attention for a major character. Well, he has as much screen time as a minor character. Only Killua with the white hair has the screen time to match his relevance alongside Gon.
So when we come to the Chimera Ant arc, it is no surprise to have over 50 – yes, 50 – new characters thrown at the story. A story, I might add, that isn’t directly relevant to the main plot even with 61 episodes. Interestingly, however, it’s a good arc. It starts slow (could have fit in half the number of episodes), though once the main villain emerges in act two it shows promise, until it finishes with a strong third act. The heart of the story is the Chimera King villain that questions life, morality, and meaning.
This arc gives fans a reason to call HxH dark, “the darkest shounen anime”. It isn’t really. It’s only dark if you haven’t seen what a proper dark story looks like. A villain killing random civilians isn’t dark – it’s just meaningless. There are a couple of dark moments, but it’s nowhere near enough to call the series dark. What Itachi does in Naruto is darker, yet I wouldn’t call that anime dark either. That said, a false reputation doesn’t take away from the strength of its third act. It’s a shame the arc has to be part of this anime. Both this arc and HxH would have benefited from separation. The Chimera Ant arc works as a standalone story similar to From the New World and with its removal, HxH can refocus on the plot. There is a main story consequence resulting from the Ants, but that could have come just as easily from the Phantom Troupe.
What HxH boasts in the end is two good arcs, which still need work, and a mixture of decent and utter trash for the remainder of the time. I haven’t covered half the problems with HxH in this already too-long review.
A common note you will hear of this anime is that it is the best of the battle shounen. It has the smartest fights, greatest characters, best villains, and most complex stories, they will tell you. Does it? Not really. There are smarter fights, greater characters, and better villains in other shounen anime. Nor is HxH different from the norm. You have the same types of arcs, the same cast of characters, yelling for power, energy attacks, poor explanations, and there is even a Super Saiyan mode (I won’t give it away, but it is the goofiest super mode I have ever witnessed). It does do one better than the rest – no unofficial filler, though that doesn’t save it from other pacing issues, including a narrator that repeats everything we just saw.
Many of these problems are common to most entries in the genre though. Would I recommend another battle anime over this? I don’t know. No matter which you pick, you have to tolerate a lot of garbage.
Is HxH better than most of the genre? Sure, why not. With such a low bar, it isn’t difficult to hit single digit ranks, though that is still low when looking at anime as a whole. If coming from Dragon Ball Z, as this did with the 90s manga release, it would seem mind blowing to have any strategy to fights, character development, and a story that’s more than “punch the bad guy”.
The difficulty I have with justifying a recommendation to watch Hunter x Hunter is in its 148-episode length. Consider how many other better anime you could finish in that time. And you have to factor in that no one has any idea when or even if this will ever receive a conclusion. If you love shounen, you will love this – I don’t doubt it. But if you don’t love shounen, then I can’t recommend it.
Art – Medium
What is with these character designs? Everyone looks like a bootleg knock off from other anime with no thought to theme or cohesion. There’s a reason these characters feature so little in aesthetic contests. Like all long anime, the budget has to cover too much ground. However, unlike other battle anime, HxH doesn’t drop in quality for action scenes – quite the opposite. A pleasant surprise.
Sound – High
The acting is the strongest area of HxH and the music is solid, though lacks variety for such a long series.
Story – Medium
A kid becomes a hunter in a quest to find his father, but will have to overcome many trials and foes before the end. The short version: Phantom Troupe and Chimera Ant arcs are good, and I wouldn’t bother with the rest.
Overall Quality – Medium
Recommendation: For battle shounen fans only. Hunter x Hunter doesn’t have the crossover appeal to go beyond its demographic. For those who do start, note that the series is incomplete with no continuation in sight.
When a reader requested Giant Robo for review, I made a joke about how on the nose the title was. Easy to guess what that anime is about! Well guess what? It ain’t about a giant robot! What…?
Yeah, the robot is barely in it and even when on screen, usually does nothing. Oh sure, the robot can cry, but need it to fight more than a few times in six hours of film? No robot for you!
Not only is the robot barely in Giant Robo, the robot isn’t even needed! (Don’t even mention the other robots teased in the introduction.)
An evil organisation called Big Fire (…) wants to destroy the source of Earth’s renewable energy, Shizuma Drives, and return humanity to the dark ages. The International Police Force fights back with special warriors from around the globe, capable of immense feats and super powers, alongside Daisaku, the 12-year-old kid in control of Giant Robo.
The warriors are the reason for Giant Robo’s superfluous nature. They are so powerful – super strength, teleportation, god weapons, immortality, and more – that I have to question why there are giant robots at all. Characters often describe Giant Robo as a trump card against Big Fire, but these warriors don’t need the help and certainly not from a kid. Daisaku is more useless than his robot. Each episode opens to an introduction of the story, pressing us with the importance of Giant Robo and its amazing young pilot, Daisuke! He has no combat abilities, though conveniently for his purpose in the plot has the watch that controls Robo.
Normally I would chalk Daisuke up to the need for a kid protagonist in a story for kids. However, my understanding is that Giant Robo is a loose adaptation of the source material that tries bringing pieces from every corner of the mangaka’s work, so I assume Daisuke feels more a protagonist in his manga.
The production team had two options to make this work. They either cut Daisuke (or make him a side character if they have to keep him) or give him something to do and lower the strength of the warriors. Currently, his job is to ask whiny questions while waiting for his cue on the next Robo appearance.
As for the warriors, the stars of the show, they aren’t memorable owing to their lack of distinction. They don’t have personalities as much as they have a thing. One’s thing is to be cool and brooding. Another’s is be a joker. You remember these people by power, not by character. Most of Giant Robo is action. When it isn’t action, it’s talking about the previous plot point and getting to the next plot point. Little time passes on character development. We don’t see character moments. Because this is for kids, characters spend too much time telling about their motivations, about the lessons they learned, and making sure that the kids get it.
Seen in the context of an old anime, there is enjoyment to find in Giant Robo. It looks great, even today, and the orchestral soundtrack is beautiful. The classic feel and maniacal villains that remind of Tin Tin’s foes are fun, but you cannot divorce Giant Robo from the modern day and the advancements in anime that come with it. This story hasn’t aged well. If you don’t have the nostalgia bug, these story problems will get in the way.
Art – High
The visuals are a mix of Metropolis and Lupin the Third and still hold up today. I like the style and the attention to detail with the parallax scrolling backgrounds.
Sound – Medium
Giant Robo has two dubs – one by Manga Entertainment and the other by Media Blasters. The latter is better, though Daisaku’s voice sounds too much like a girl, so the Japanese might be a better choice. The orchestral soundtrack is suitably world ending.
Story – Low
An international group of super powered warriors fight against an evil that wants to return humanity to the dark ages. A show called Giant Robo that isn’t about a giant robot, which has an extraneous protagonist, and an ending revelation that beggars belief doesn’t make for great story.
Overall Quality – Medium
Recommendation: For old anime fans only. I can only see enjoyment for those going into Giant Robo as a nostalgia trip. For the love of anime, don’t believe the title!