All posts by Nefarious Reviews

Fate/stay night – Visual Novel Review

Related: Fate/stay night (arc 1 anime)

Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works (arc 2 anime)

Fate/stay night: Heaven’s Feel (arc 3 anime)

Fate/Zero (prequel anime)

 

Genre: Contemporary Fantasy Action Romance

Length: 45-60 hours (15-20 hours per arc, depending on reading speed)

 

Positives:

  • Good concept.
  • Starts well.

Negatives:

  • 50% word count in excess.
  • More telling than showing.
  • Idiot protagonist.
  • Useless ‘gamey’ elements.
  • Poor lore and mechanic explanations.
  • Circular dialogue.
  • World feels empty.
  • No basis to the romance.
  • Worst sex scene ever put to fiction.

Fate is a massive franchise, having mutated from a visual novel of three arcs into a tentacled monster of anime, games, and spinoffs. Due to its size and popularity, I followed a ‘watch order’ guide and started with the Fate/stay night visual novel since the anime Fate/stay night mashes all three arcs into one mess.

The story opens strong in the prologue with the red girl, Rin, a few character/world building scenes, and Rin summoning her servant Archer. We meet much of the human cast in efficient time and the stakes are clear. Seven mages will summon legendary figures from history or mythology to fight for the Holy Grail, granting a single wish. We also learn that a servant’s identity is of utmost importance, for knowing the hero is to know their weakness and ultimate weapon. Instead of names, they go by their class – Saber, Archer, Berserker, Rider, Assassin, Caster, and Lancer. (This cleared much confusion about why I had seen characters with the same names across the Fate franchise.) Typically, only the servant and master know the true name. Archer, however, can’t remember his identity.

So, we have the characters, the world, the stakes, interesting lore, a good concept, and a decent pace in a short period. The writing could use work, but it’s not bad.

Then the story resets once you start the first arc proper, titled Fate, where we now follow the actual protagonist, Shirou (introduced in the prologue), only to repeat the same story save a change or two, and dump a ton of exposition. The writing nosedives and the pacing stalls, which coupled with the bad art, makes Fate/stay night a difficult journey to complete.

First, Shirou is a rubbish character, only marginally better than your usual idiot harem protagonist. Fate/stay night is a harem of sorts, with each arc defined by which of the three girls Shirou pursues. And by pursues, I mean makes no effort to attract. He also gains free power when convenient for the plot.

Arc one centres on Shirou paired with his servant, the blonde knight Saber, who is one of the few good features of the story thanks to her backstory. The second arc, Unlimited Blade Works, has Rin as the love interest with Saber shifted to a minor character, which feels clumsy because she’s still crucial, yet forgotten most of the time in favour of Archer. Heaven’s Feel switches the romance to childhood friend Sakura. Each arc builds on the previous, so it’s important to play them in order if you want the full story, though expect a lot of repetition for the mechanics, rules explanations, and introductions. Characters also have inconsistencies across arcs.

Back to Shiro, much of the first act is girls fawning over him, when not expositing. An early scene has Shirou and three girls yammering on about him and food. I set the novel to auto, left for dinner, and returned to find then still at it. Almost all 15 days per arc has one of these ‘eating’ scenes that drones on for hours. These conversations don’t advance the plot or develop character either, often going in circles to repeat the same garbage until you want to choose one of the bad endings, just to end it all. They are filler, proven no more effectively than by their marked absence in the Unlimited Blade Works anime. There’s more food related scenes than action in this “action” series.

The exposition may be worse. Repeated exposition from the prologue aside, the way Rin explains the lore (exposition parrot is her main job) and mechanics is like a poorly written dictionary. Furthermore, the Fate series has these pointless game elements such as grades for character attributes and magic levels. What a lazy and binary technique of representing character power. Worse yet, they don’t matter. If the plot needs an A+ servant injured by a weak attack, then it will happen. Remove these statistics and nothing is lost. Instead, why not build the world. Fate/stay night gives the impression of having 20 people in existence. So many words, yet such an empty world.

Any editor can remove half the text with a cursory glance from all the filler. Even plot text is over written, full of stating the obvious and explaining an action just before doing it.

‘I should go to the kitchen.’

‘I go to the kitchen.’

‘I should eat something.’

‘I eat something.’

Imagine that, but with five times the words.

Arriving at the plot, matters improve little. After spending so much time establishing the rules, insisting upon the importance of character statistics and each servant’s power, Fate/stay night throws all the rules out the window and does whatever. I don’t imagine the writer bothered to edit for consistency. I don’t imagine he edited at all.

For a plot that’s about everyone fighting to the death, few characters actually fight to the death. I can’t remember how many times a good guy lives because a villain just lets them go. Hell, the loli girl, master of Berserker, captures Shirou and instead of killing him, takes him home to become her slave (of sex?). Of course he gets away, rendering the event pointless. The alliance between Rin and Shirou also makes little sense, stretching the limits of plausibility for why a girl, whose life training prepared her to crush mages and servants, would forget all that faster than a sneeze.

But, none of the above makes Fate/stay night a terrible visual novel. Amateurish, sure. Requiring an editor? Certainly. Only once you find the true purpose for this game’s creation can you witness its soul. Much like the Holy Grail isn’t what it seems, Fate/stay night isn’t an action series, nor is it a fantasy – well, yes, it is a fantasy, though not the sort one normally thinks of. All of this – the legendary heroes, the magic, the violence, the lore – serves as a self-insert fantasy for the author to get it on with the ladies.

If you are of innocent mind, then avert thine eyes and skip the next paragraph, for I have to describe the first “session of love” if I am to truly impress upon you the horrendousness of this text. The excuse to have sex is retardedly hilarious. Prepare yourselves (or your anus, in Rin’s case), we are about to enter the worst erotic fiction ever conceived.

After a lost battle, Shirou, Saber, and Rin flee to an abandoned house in enemy territory. Saber has little energy left and with Berserker on the hunt, they need to recharge her before the next fight. What’s the one surefire way to recharge a servant? You guessed it: have sex. Feeding her energy had never been a problem until now, but hey, we have to ram sex scenes in somehow. Saber is hesitant, so Rin must take charge and ready her for the ritual by lubricating the knight. Rin becomes an instant bisexual, Saber – the all-powerful Saber – a weak, quivering girl, whose lips say no but her body says yes. Then Shirou mans up to do his duty, despite being so totally against it all, and the self-insert fantasy enters full swing in an orgy of awkward prose, bad anatomy, and most importantly, cringe. The way actions and sensations are described gives the impression that the author had never had sex before.

These characters change into new people for the scene (except Shirou – he’s always a loser) to justify sex. I should mention that this forms the basis of Shirou and Saber’s romantic thread… This scene is so bad that I considered the idea someone had pranked me by modding my game with fan fiction. I didn’t know this was an eroge beforehand.

The second sex scene with Saber is vanilla, but full of, “No, you mustn’t…” “There’s no need to suck that…” “No, don’t touch me there…” The other arcs also have their share of ridiculous erotica, though none as hilarious as the Shirou-Saber-Rin bender. Like the exposition and food scenes, the erotica contributes nothing. The author has no sense of focus.

What does Fate/stay night look like when it isn’t about the sex? We’ll find out in the next review, Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works. Or better yet, when the author isn’t involved? See the Fate/Zero review after that.

Art – Very Low

The character art looks like amateur work you find on DeviantArt, as if the artist copied someone else. With no animation to contend with, the art has no excuse looking this cheap. A later port added some improved art shots.

Sound – Low

The music is bland, the voice work stiff.

Story – Low

Mages summon heroes of mythology and history to fight to the death for the Holy Grail. Fate/stay night’s good concept receives no help from the writer, who can’t do exposition, or romance, or pacing.

Overall Quality – Very Low

Recommendation: Avoid it…then again, you may want to play the first arc to see what horrific writing looks like. Fate/stay night is worse than the sum of its parts thanks to its atrocious technical writing, filler, and most particularly, the sex scenes. Watch Fate/Zero first, since this game spoils parts of that superior series.

Advertisements

Watched but Not Reviewed

For most of this site’s early reviews, I revisited anime I had already seen to build a solid foundation. However, rewatching so many episodes was time-consuming and in the end, I had to skip a number of series that were either too long or not interesting enough to warrant a review.

This article will be a list of brief reviews, of sorts, from memory as I consider whether it’s worth going back to any for full review. (I’ve likely forgotten a dozen more titles.)

Agent Aika

Agent Aika is the sole anime that’s honest about panty visibility with the length of anime skirts. Finding a safe for work image for this article was a challenge (the secret was in the camera angle…). Aika is some Charlie’s Angel-type working as a salvager and has a magical transformation – if you can call being molested to near nudity a magical transformation (too weird for words) – to fight off other groups. It’s a garbage show with more panty shots than sense, story, and substance combined.

Argento Soma

This is a weird one. I remember Argento Soma being similar to the animated film The Iron Giant, except that the giant is an alien and one girl falls in love with it (I think). The protagonist is some emo, which created this slow and depressing atmosphere that bored me. I barely remember Argento Soma.

Beyblade

Spinning top battles. The Japanese can turn any idea into an anime. Interestingly enough, Beyblade isn’t as out there as you would imagine. The Japanese play a spinning top duel game called Beigoma, which you can see here on Begin Japanology (love this show). Of course, you can’t issue commands to your Beyblade top as they can in the anime. Beyblade is about a collective people sharing in a delusion that you can yell at a spinning top to turn on the ‘Eye of the Tiger’, calling upon a spirit inside the top. This anime sucks. I ended up watching every episode in broken chunks each morning because of my younger brother.

Black Cat

A friend of mine was obsessed with Black Cat – ‘best anime ever’ obsessed. In the face of such obsession, I had to watch it. And…I still don’t get it a decade later. Why did he love Black Cat so much? Why? I never got a clear answer. This bounty hunter anime is bland, forgettable, with no reason for recommendation. All I properly remember of the story is one moment in the finale when a character transforms into a hideous blimp of a woman – literally a blimp – and a girl looks up and says, “Wow, so beautiful!” Still makes me laugh.

Blassreiter

The art style for Blassreiter drew my initial interest, but it was worth nothing in the end. The plot is similar to Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress with the protagonist infected by the cybernetic enemies, but in control of himself and his powers. Belongs in the slush pile.

Bleach

What a crapfest… No anime knows how to pad the story better than Bleach does. For those who haven’t seen this, the plot maintains momentum for two arcs ending in the reveal of the true villain, and what follows is nearly 300 episodes of padding. The filler is filler. The canon is filler. Everything is filler in Bleach. It throws one enemy after the other at Ichigo and company amid power resets every few seasons. Very Low rating.

Burn Up Scramble

Burn Up Scramble is a bad version of Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040.

Cardcaptor Sakura

Of all the anime on this list, Cardcaptor Sakura is one of the better titles. The first season is a typical monster-of-the-week format with Sakura capturing spirits for her card deck, but the second season goes into a proper story that works. Young girls will love Cardcaptor Sakura in particular.

Chobits

Another CLAMP title. A boy finds an abandoned android assistant, but unlike the other ‘Persocoms’, she seems to have consciousness. Despite powering on the android by going to second base, Chobits is a timid romance that meanders to no payoff. Typical shallow anime romance.

Crest of the Stars & Banner of the Stars

I liked this one. Crest of the Stars is a mix of Martian Successor Nadesico and Escaflowne following a human and an alien elf princess on the run amid a war between their peoples. I won’t revisit this because apart from having too many episodes, a dozen other anime do a better job today. Maybe if the visuals were appealing I would make the effort.

Devil May Cry

Where is Dante’s charm? Play the game instead.

Dragon Ball Z

I am not watching this behemoth again. I saw Dragon Ball Z more times than most in my teen years, but it has been many years since I’ve had anything good to say about this repetitive, plodding battle shounen. Goku ranks among the worst characters in fiction. The future Trunks standalone movie is good, being the only Dragon Ball Z story with consequences and no filler. I recommend that piece.

Geneshaft

Gunbuster is bad. Geneshaft is the same anime, yet somehow worse.

GetBackers

I have seen GetBackers two or three times already, so this should receive a full review, no? Well, I may have enjoyed it plenty an eon ago, but I can predict what I would think of it now. In this world, super powered humans work in pairs for various professions, (thieves, bounty hunters, bodyguards, typical shady jobs) clashing with other duos on every assignment. The powers are cool – glasses guy can force illusions upon others akin to Sharingan, which is a favourite power type of mine – the action is decent, and I recall hilarious comedy. Unfortunately, after several mission-of-the-week episodes, everyone enters a cyberpunk slum monolith controlled by an emo kid with tech powers, at which point it becomes boring. GetBackers does have the accolade of best use of sudden chibi art for protagonist Ginji.

Green Green

This belongs on the worst anime list. An all-boy school pervs on an all-girl school after they merge for ‘psychological stimuli’. I thought Green Green was hilarious in high school. I was also an idiot. Hey, at least the main relationship has more progress than most anime romances.

.hack//Sign

.hack was the original Sword Art Online. Except it wasn’t. An anime about a no-life kid trapped in a VR MMO with a Guardian item that destroys anyone who tries to attack him should be an action, intrigue, and wonder filled romp, a slam-dunk success. What we have instead is a bunch of noobs sitting around chatting about nothing. .hack is the most boring anime ever made. You’ll be a puddle of ooze by the end. That said, the soundtrack – the soundtrack! – oh boy, let me tell you about the soundtrack. 10 out of 10. Phenomenal. It deserves a better anime.

Kiddy Grade

Kiddy Grade is GetBackers but with lolis instead of men and without the comedy or charm. The main girl can create a whip by drawing with her lipstick – creative, to be sure, though not enough.

Maburaho

Garbage harem. A bunch of girls wants to shag harem protagonist guy because his special mayonnaise, when ingested vaginally, will produce powerful magical kids.

Maria Watches Over Us

Maria Watches Over Us started the yuritopia craze – anime set in all-girl schools (often Catholic, because, you know, all love a repressed girl gone naughty) where everyone is a lesbian and conflict doesn’t exist. As the yuritopia moniker suggests, these anime are snorefests. Neither sexy nor deep, neither engaging nor fun, Maria Watches Over Us has nothing going for it.

My-Hime

What an ugly anime. Clichés and a terrible protagonist destroy any appeal, even once you get past the art.

Noir

The early 2000s had many anime sporting girls/women with guns, usually with a sombre, psychological tone about their traumatised states of mind from all the killing. Noir, like its sister series, doesn’t quite hit the mark. It wallows too much in self-pity. Twenty-six episodes is too long for a story so thin on content.

Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva

I love the Layton games. Their charm, quirky characters, storybook art, mysteries, and puzzles make them a delight. Eternal Diva doesn’t succeed in many of these qualities. It looks like the games, but not much more. The mystery doesn’t engage as it should and the puzzle element feels clumsy. It’s okay, at most.

Read or Die TV

Three bookish sisters can control paper, which is one cool power and what attracted me to Read or Die. I wish it had substance and that the sisters had more than their one defining trait. I’m told the OVA prequel is superior. I may check that out.

Scrapped Princess

I went into Scrapped Princess thinking it was an adventure similar to Orphen or Fullmetal Alchemist. It’s not. Two warrior siblings escort their outcast younger sister on a rather dull adventure. I mostly remember the twist for the final act, which was a good idea, though the poor build up weakened its impact.

s-CRY-ed

s-CRY-ed, now this was my jam! I loved this anime. I don’t remember much of the plot. I think it was like Marvel’s Civil War, where anyone with powers must work for the government while rebel supernaturals live in a lawless zone, or some such. Regardless, the action was where it mattered. s-CRY-ed is wall-to-wall crazy action and ridiculous characters, to the best of my memory. With a title like s-CRY-ed it had better be. You know, I think I’ll give this a full review. It may shatter my fond memories, but perhaps it might be just as fun as I remember.

Searching for the Full Moon

This was in the top 10 on some anime database a decade ago, so of course I had to watch it. Gee willikers, I was in for a great time! Only 52 episodes? Give me more! … A few episodes in, I wanted to end it all in a hail of bullets. Searching for the Full Moon is about a little girl with throat cancer whose dream is to be a popstar. Lucky for her, the shinigami that come to collect her soul instead decide to transform her into a 16 year old so she can sing. Apart from embodying the usual emotionally manipulative schlock of its genre, Searching for the Full Moon teaches awful morals to little girls, the target audience. Forget hard work, effort and merit – if you wish hard enough, everything will be okay! Watch Kodocha instead.

Stellvia of the Universe

Geneshaft but with a slice of life leaning, Stellvia of the Universe is a sleeping drug – a mercy, if you ask me, with that character design. This anime should have had that ‘cosy’ feeling I love from the likes of Gundam SEED. It doesn’t.

Suzuka

Suzuka was the first anime I streamed online. Back then, studios would put entire series on YouTube to watch for free. The ease of access made me watch all 26 episodes in a day, even though it was your average high school drama. Worst part? It’s incomplete. You have to read the manga, which I’ve heard takes all sorts of dramatic turns.

Vandread

I’m fairly certain Vandread was in the first 10 anime I watched. I’m not sure why I chose this above all other great titles available. Must have been a random choice. I completed both seasons in quick succession because it was anime. I don’t know what I would think of Vandread today. The premise screams of trash. Men and women have lived on separate planets for generations (they reproduce through cloning, if I recall), becoming alien to each other to the point of going to war. An incident forces a crew of men onto the same ship as a crew of women for some comedy hijinks. Perhaps I’ll revisit Vandread when bored.

Witchblade

Yes, Witchblade is based on the American comics featuring a woman with the minimum amount of coverage not to fall in the ‘nude’ category. Unlike Agent Aika however, Witchblade is a decent anime. It has a solid protagonist in the mother doing all she can for her daughter as they stay on the run from the government and evil organisations. She can transform into the Witchblade, which makes her a target. This is worth your time if you want some fun action with an older protagonist that is easy on the eyes. Medium rating.

Wolverine

Marvel licensed out several properties for anime conversion at one time. They are all straightforward adaptations without any surprises, incorporating Japan as the location, to forgettable success. These Marvel anime are too generic. Except for Blade – that’s straight trash.

You’re Under Arrest

This police comedy comes from the same author as Ah! My Goddess. It’s very much a comedy of its time, the 90s. Leave it in the archives unless you love that era.

Yu-Gi-Oh!

It’s time to duel! Alright, here’s what you do: watch a season or just a few episodes of Yu-Gi-Oh to get a feel for its ludicrous world of a children’s card game. Then, go watch Yu-Gi-Oh the Abridged Series. That fan series made by one guy is comedy gold up to the conclusion of the main story. As for the anime, it is goofy fun designed to sell you on the real card game. I’m unsure if the overdramatic duels are intentionally or accidentally hilarious.

Zoids

I have reviewed Zoids: New Century Zero, a fun battle anime about 3-on-3 duels with robot dinosaurs. Zoids proper features an ongoing adventure story instead of the battle format. Typically, that’s a good idea…if you have a good story and likeable characters. Zoids is a forgettable shounen you should forgo in favour of New Century for some genuine fun.

 

So, that’s the list, excepting Neon Genesis Evangelion, whose review is on the way. Only the insanity of s-CRY-ed tempts me to go back, and perhaps Vandread – that premise must result in a so-bad-its-good anime, surely. As for the rest, I’d rather venture into new territory than retread old ground I probably wouldn’t have much fun with today. My ‘plan to watch’ list is long enough as it is. Speaking of, I’m devising a technique to clear a large chunk of the backlog in a month or so once my current work is complete. Having 200 titles waiting in line makes me anxious. I need a leap in progress. And soon.

Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Jin-Roh

 

Similar: Akira

Ghost in the Shell

Mobile Police Patlabor: The Movie

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Psychological Drama

Length: 1 hr. 42 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • Some good visual elements.
  • Lovely music.

Negatives:

  • Drab colours.
  • Metaphors are on the nose.
  • Thin on content.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Mamoru Oshii’s Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade is an introspective film hinged on a metaphor of ‘Little Red Riding Hood’. Constable Kazuki Fuse is traumatised after witnessing a terrorist girl detonate to avoid capture amid riots in an alternate history Japan. As an officer of the panzer troopers, an armoured ground force reminiscent of the video game Killzone’s Helghast, his change in behaviour mandates retraining and puts him in the middle of the conflict between the Capital Police and ordinary police forces. During his recovery, he grows close to the sister of the very terrorist girl who died before him.

This premise of a dystopian Japan, riots everywhere, Helghast-like officers clashing with police, and suicide bombers paints an intense portrait of a film. You’re probably imagining Akira. In truth, Jin-Roh couldn’t be further from intense. This slow, methodical film set in a nation without colour, without life, wants to evoke depression inside the viewer. Once vibrant greens and reds have faded. The world feels ‘Soviet’ where the higher ups have absolute power, giving no hope to the people.

Kazuki roams with no purpose. The few glimpses of life spark during his moments with the sister, but even those are drops in the calm ocean.

I am sad to say that Jin-Roh doesn’t succeed in evoking much emotion, nor does it engage the viewer. As I opened with, the story is a metaphor for ‘Little Red Riding Hood’, which Oshii handles without an ounce of subtlety, for every second scene makes a simile or draws a motif to wolves and the fairy tale. He’s so obsessed with the metaphors and motifs that he forgets to develop the characters and the world in which they live. The story never gives a sense of why anyone does their jobs or what they hope to accomplish in this world nearing anarchy.

Oshii’s masterpiece, Ghost in the Shell, has one of my favourite introspective moments in anime when Motoko Kusanagi glides through the streets of New Port City, so one would imagine that a film with more of this reflection would be a personal treat for me. What made that moment in Ghost special was its placement among scenes of intense action and intrigue. The story slowed down with a purpose. Jin-Roh is perpetually slow.

You could take almost any scene from this film and it would be interesting when seen standalone, similar to watching that scene from Ghost by itself. It’s once you realise that the film has almost nothing but this sluggishness repeated for an hour and a half that it becomes boring. It needs balance.

Rather than make me care for Kazuki’s plight, Jin-Roh had me crossing my fingers for another riot.

Art – High

The art is effective at evoking a dystopian atmosphere, but the much-muted brown palette becomes dull when it’s all there is. Characters could use more detail. Most of the animation budget went into people being riddled with bullets.

Sound – Medium

Voice work – fine. Music – lovely, tragic.

Story – Medium

A special unit officer reconsiders his position in life after witnessing the suicide death of a terrorist girl amid enforcement politics. Jin-Roh’s sacrifice of everything to convey its ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ motif limits its appeal and quality.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For fans of the slow and introspective ONLY. Seriously, if you don’t love, and I mean love, slow pieces with near-no story, Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade will bore you to death.

(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

Tales from Earthsea – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Gedo Senki

 

Similar: Castle in the Sky

Princess Mononoke

Howl’s Moving Castle

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Fantasy Adventure

Length: 1 hr. 55 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • Gorgeous art.

Negatives:

  • No depth to the characters.
  • Lacks engagements.
  • Doesn’t explore anything.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Tales from Earthsea is often the lowest rated feature film by Studio Ghibli on anime database sites, sometimes by a significant margin. This discrepancy for such a venerable studio has always made Tales from Earthsea stand out to me. It looked like a Ghibli movie, so what could be wrong?

The world is deteriorating. A division of desires between dragons and humans has thrown nature off balance. Archmage Sparrowhawk goes on a journey to find the cause, meeting Arren, young prince of the kingdom, who has just killed his father and is on the run. The prince harbours a darkness within that grants him both strength and cruelty. The sorcerer Cob sees Arren’s weakness as an opportunity to tip the balance further and open the gate to immortality.

Confusion. I characterise Tales from Earthsea best with the word ‘confusion’. The above plot outline isn’t clear until the movie is almost over. The storytelling is so vague. It doesn’t lay out any clear information at the start. You don’t know what any character wants, where anything is going, or why anything is this way. In any story, you must give the audience something to care about from the beginning, whether it is a character motivation, a goal, or an ideal. You wander aimlessly through Tales from Earthsea. I paused several times to watch a YouTube video out of boredom. I care nothing about this film.

Sparrowhawk is a one-note noble wizard, Arren doesn’t have anything going for him outside of these visually intriguing nightmares, and Cob is just Evil Guy 63728. His subordinate slaver is more interesting. We don’t receive reason to care for their actions or their fates. Lacking are the ‘human’ moments that make us love Ghibli’s other characters. How charmed are we by Howl’s first interaction with Sophie? How lovable is Chihiro within minutes? Who could say no to the fluffy Totoro after a single yawn? How strongly did we feel for Seita’s predicament before we even knew his name?

The world of Earthsea almost made me care. When the main characters reach the town of Hort, it’s a magnificent sight, hinting at a deeper world. A back alley shows us citizens crippled by an opium-like substance. A slaver insinuates he will sell a girl into sex slavery. Drugs, slavery, and other dark elements speak of a depth created by the novel’s author, yet not translated by the film studio. These dark elements don’t matter in the movie.

I can see why praise is scarce for Tales from Earthsea with so little to recommend itself. With the basics of storytelling and characters missing from here, there’s no point commenting on the higher layers, such as the scene-to-scene. It’s a waste of time when every problem could be summed up with, “You need to go back to the story/character and fix it first.”

Tales from Earthsea was the first feature film directed by Hayao Miyazaki’s son, Goro, and he hadn’t grasped the Ghibli magic that made the studio’s films stand out.

Art – Very High

Even with a bad story, Studio Ghibli delivers quality art. The shot of the city impresses me in particular, as does the cinematography on the dragon’s back in the opening scene.

Sound – Medium

The acting is decent. The dub needs more energy, especially from the girl. In the dub, Willem Dafoe replaces a Japanese woman as the sorcerer, oddly enough.

Story – Low

A boy combats his inner demons as an evil sorcerer seeks immortality. Tales from Earthsea lack direction, foundation, development, and depth to make a compelling story.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Don’t bother. Unless you must watch Tales from Earthsea to complete the Ghibli library, there is no reason to waste your time on this film.

(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:

Fluid AnimationStunning Art Quality

Negative:

DissapointingHollow World BuildingShallow

Saekano: How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata

 

Related: Saekano: How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend .flat (sequel – included in review)

Similar: The World God Only Knows

Welcome to the NHK

The Pet Girl of Sakurasou

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Harem Ecchi Comedy Romance

Length: 25 episodes (2 seasons)

 

Positives:

  • Episode 0s.
  • Proper challenges in creative professions.

Negatives:

  • Can’t focus.
  • Too much harem filler.
  • Becomes what it parodies too often.

(Request an anime for review here.)

It’s no secret that trash overwhelmingly populates the harem genre. It’s also common knowledge that harem is mainstream among anime fans, as a harem entry hits the charts each season. Fans also forget them just as quickly when the next season throws a new batch of waifus to pick from.

Harem anime is the easiest genre to make and thus floods the new release list every few months. To stand out from the orgy, studios select series that can bait the reader in, whether through an all-monster-girl cast, picking up girls in a dungeon, or making every girl be the guy’s teachers. A-1 Pictures’ gamble to go meta-harem with Saekano: How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend paid off, wedging it between the breasts of fellow harems The Testament of Sister New Devil (what is this name?) and Absolute Duo in that season’s top 10. Parodying the genre elevates you above the genre, yes? Well, let’s find out.

Saekano follows high school otaku Tomoya in his dream to make the most compelling harem visual novel. To this task, he recruits illustrator Eriri, bestselling author Utaha, and boring girl Megumi as model for the main character. However, to tap into the emotions required for a compelling visual novel, he and his ‘super team’ must experience these emotions themselves.

So, the excuse for a harem this time is the creation of the visual novel, where 99% of harem anime come from, which is a better excuse than most. The characters comment on the harem – get down with the meta – in the process of crafting the game characters, writing the story, and designing the illustrations, often to comedic results. Episode 0 is full meta, as it assigns each character a role in the harem anime – think of a harem LARP. This Episode 0 deceptively sets up the idea that Saekano is a meta harem, which is not the case, as it’s more of a workplace anime like Shirobako and New Game before it then becomes an ordinary harem.

Giving the characters jobs that drive their progression is a nice addition. (Ever notice how most harem characters do nothing in life?) Even so, Tomoya isn’t much more interesting than your average harem protagonist. He’s about light novel protagonist level. The greatest missed opportunity lies in Megumi. It would have been much more interesting if she were nothing like the ‘boring girlfriend’ archetype required for the game. Instead, make her the opposite but have to act like the generic harem main girl. What we have is an unironic bland girl with no arc, whose main purpose is to create the clickbait title of the anime.

The third act of season one introduces Tomoya’s cousin, a musician, whom he recruits to compose music for the game. Up to this point, most episodes focused on each character’s role (Saekano still uses the harem structure of ‘let each girl have their turn’). When the cousin enters, it’s her turn to jump Tomoya and there’s nothing meta or ironic about the cousin-cest. The usual accidental flashing, towel drops, no boundaries, and shallow titillation fill the screen time. Saekano becomes the cliché it’s supposedly parodying. Season one is a bore.

Funnily enough, season two opens with new meta about the first season, mocking it as boring and clichéd. “How did such a generic anime get a second season?” And Saekano sees a marked improvement from there. Work takes centre stage with serious conflict. The team struggles with finding the answers to what will make for a compelling game in the face of deadlines. Eriri and Utaha also receive an offer to work on a professional project. This creates Saekano’s best moment, when Tomoya has to face the reality that he isn’t cut out to lead a team of professionals. Eriri and Utaha aren’t amateurs, yet he treats them as such, not demanding of them the same quality as you would of a professional. For the first time in a harem, the protagonist is punished for being too nice. Progress!

You may be asking yourself about what happened to the meta. Saekano’s core failure is a lack of focus. Is it a harem parody? No, it’s a romance. Wait, no, it’s about finding success in life. Saekano needed to choose one and relegate the others to subplots instead of giving each one main plot time in turn (ironically, just as harem does with its girls). A symptom of this failure is no more evident than when Tomoya fades as protagonist in season two. He becomes a supporting character in his own story! (Not a great loss, if I’m honest.)

Saekano is still above most harem, but only average by other standards, which is far better than anyone should expect.

Art – Low

Saekano uses the style of coloured lines instead of black for character outlines – as seen in Bakemonogatari – but at random, giving characters an off-putting neon glow. A-1 Pictures tried copying Shaft without purpose. Bad CG intrudes at odd times, such as when the author is typing. No artistry either. It really wants you to find these girls sexy with how it pans across anywhere but the face.

Sound – Medium

The acting is fine with nothing outstanding. Music is forgettable.

Story – Medium

A visual novel aficionado convinces a bestselling author, a respected illustrator, and a random girl to join his project of creating the best harem visual novel. A lack of focus holds this story back, though still succeeds in parts.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For harem fans only. Saekano’s meta humour and effort at conflict make a more interesting anime than the usual harem. Its faults still confine it to the genre.

(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:

Incoherent