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Castlevania Season 2 – Review

Related: Castlevania Season 1

Castlevania Season 3 (TBR)

Similar: Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust

Hellsing Ultimate

Berserk

 

Watched in: English & Japanese

Genre: Fantasy Action Horror

Length: 8 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Improves upon the strong first season.
  • Vampire political intrigue.
  • New characters.
  • Oozes atmosphere.

Negatives:

  • No Church.
  • Ends too quickly.

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We last left Trevor Belmont and his companions in the search for the means to find Dracula’s castle and slay the master of the keep. I left Castlevania with a positive impression though uncertain of whether it could hold up beyond what was, essentially, the opening to a series. Much to my surprise, yet again, Castlevania is superior to what I had anticipated by way of an interesting narrative focus.

Season 2 opens in the past with the arrest of Lisa (Dracula’s wife) by the Church for the “witchcraft” of medicine. While this is a retread, it gives us more detail and makes for a chilling first scene when you know what happens to everyone for ignoring her warning.

After this, we jump to Dracula’s war room, where his strongest vampires from across the kingdom have gathered to plot humanity’s annihilation. However – and this is where the brilliance started – he selects two humans as his generals to lead the scourge, much to the disgust of some vampires, especially one of the Vikings. Beyond their deep-seated loathing for humanity and their tactical ability, these two have the only clear heads in the army not driven by bloodthirst.

Now, at this point, it’s just a good idea (and I’ve harped on often enough about the importance of execution over ideas in past reviews). The brilliance comes in the backstory of these characters, contrasted against the vampires, and their actions going forward. They are simultaneously committing some of the most heinous atrocities against humanity while conveying sympathy. One of the two, Isaac, is Dracula’s Forgemaster. He doesn’t forge weapons, however. His speciality is bringing the dead to life, often forged into demons of great power, though he has equal inclination to revive a fallen puppy as a companion. Makes for an interesting ability.

The appointment of these two as generals leads to much unease among the vampires, many playing politics to gain power or favour with Dracula. There are whispers among the ranks about Dracula’s soundness of mind after the loss of his wife. How will vampires feed if he wipes out all humans? Carmilla the vampire queen of many legends is particularly sly and sharp of tongue. I relish the political drama she brings to the court. I did not expect politics, of all things, to be such a significant portion of the narrative and so well executed.

I haven’t talked much of Trevor and his two companions so far because they aren’t the focus this season. They have enough to do for the eight episodes as they return to Trevor’s home for blessed weapons and a means to access the castle, but the focus is truly in Dracula’s camp. It’s a bold risk to shift from the protagonist. It works. Sure, we could have more of the trio in addition to all screen time with the opposition, but that would go into overtime.

Castlevania Season 2 isn’t all blood, politics, and goodness, unfortunately. The end feels too quick. For seven episodes, we have methodical build up packed with social and political dynamics, feeding us juicy backstory and character motivations until we reach the final episode where, suddenly, so much of it wraps up with too many questions and possibilities remaining unexplored. It needs more. It gives the impression that they didn’t know episode 8 would be the last until they started work on it, realising they needed to close several threads.

I want more – more vampire society, more politics, and more lore (and bring the Church back! Tap that potential). I am grateful to know a third season is on the way. Even so, they could have gone deeper with Dracula’s arc in particular.

Still, I am far from disappointed with Castlevania Season 2. The action is as gory as before (you see someone decapitated by hanging from a bladed noose), the orchestral soundtrack is a perfect match to the atmosphere, and the acting is still quality, now with more accents from the corners of Dracula’s kingdom.

I love that this outdid the first season.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch it. Castlevania Season 2 improves upon the first season in almost every way and now goes far enough into the story to warrant investment. If season 3 is any better, I’ll have to consider a Very High rating.

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Maison Ikkoku – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Maison Ikkoku

 

Related: Maison Ikkoku: Final Chapter (sequel movie)

Similar: Kimagure Orange Road

Ah! My Goddess

Ai Yori Aoshi

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Slice of Life Romance Comedy

Length: 96 episodes, 3 OVA

 

Positives:

  • Supporting cast is better than the main.
  • Occasional good comedy.

Negatives:

  • One season of content stretched across four.
  • Side relationships amount to nothing.
  • So repetitive.
  • That dog’s eyes…

(Request an anime for review here.)

Maison Ikkoku is a classic of anime romance. Does this timeless classic endure, appreciable by anyone whether watched at release or 30 years later?

It follows 20-year-old Godai, a failed student looking to pass his exams this year, who finds himself unable to study when surrounded by the rowdiest tenants imaginable in his boarding house. A greater distraction arrives in the form of the beautiful Kyoko, new manager at Maison Ikkoku, but Godai’s feelings of instant love look forever unrequited when he learns she is a widow clinging to her dead husband.

I like this premise for three reasons. One: she’s a young widow, a rarity amid a sea of “first love only” anime teen romance. Her experience promises a more mature relationship. Two: the challenge Godai faces in her husband’s shadow is ripe for conflict and emotion. Three: the cosy nature of having everyone under one roof makes it an intimate affair.

Maison Ikkoku doesn’t take advantage of this potential.

On the first point, Godai and Kyoko’s coupling is anything but mature. Godai is a child. This would be good as the starting point of Godai’s character arc, but we never see him mature into a man. He is ever the child in love and life. My big problem with Maison Ikkoku, regardless of any other issues I cover, is the lack of chemistry between these two and how poor of a job it does at convincing us that this is a real relationship. You could count on one hand the number of meaningful moments between these two – with fingers to spare. His first romantic act is trying to kiss her while she’s napping on the roof. We have a Casanova over here!

Their relationship is “cockblocking the anime.” The first few episodes consist of Godai trying to tell her how he feels and to give her a present, only to have someone or a random event stop him. This isn’t story. It is no adversity. It’s just distraction after distraction thrown at him by the writer.

You might imagine that this is just the slow start to a 96-episode series. Except, this is the series. Their first truly romantic moment is in episodes 39 & 40, only to have it regress into meaningless distractions afterwards.

The story has a love polygon for the two leads, yet even these are just cockblockers instead of opportunities at character development. For Kyoko, we have her handsome tennis coach that falls for her charms against his parents’ wishes, who have arranged a marriage with the woman of peak meekness. You know the type – eyes always downcast as if it is an offence to look at others, hands clasped in prayer to her chest, and not a bone in her spine. Godai, on the other hand, has a headstrong and naïve teenage stalker. I thought she would be a one-off character for a few episodes, a gimmick to create misunderstandings with Kyoko, but she returns. And for longer!

I must reiterate that the problem isn’t with the ideas and slice of life episodes. Execution is the culprit. When Godai and the coach compete for affection, it isn’t through conflict that promotes growth. They’re petty squabbles made worse by the fact that they go nowhere. Honestly, Maison Ikkoku has barely enough content for 24 episodes and stretches it to 96 with every fake-out and anti-climax in the book. The dead husband element also doesn’t feel like a source of turmoil for Kyoko. Instead, it comes across as a crutch by the writer to keep the couple apart. “She would kiss him, but she’s still not over the dead guy. Oh well. Maybe I’ll have them kiss next episode. Stay tuned to find out!”

It’s not as though it’s a slow burn building and building to this great romance where you cheer for the couple when united, your heart lifted with joy. If the romance was worth it in the end, that would be the quality to make it a lasting classic. The fact that it’s slow and rather repetitive would be fine when threaded by a great relationship. We would criticise it for these issues but always add on, “It’s worth it for the romance.” I sadly cannot say that here.

 

Look, this anime isn’t bad. It’s bloated and hard to recommend when you could complete three to six other romances in the same time. If you have a love for old anime and go in knowing not to care about relationship growth, you could enjoy Maison Ikkoku. The comedy is decent thanks to the eccentric support cast (except the ever-annoying kids). My favourite is the tenant that dresses like an old FBI agent. He comes and goes from the house to escapades unknown and infiltrates other people’s rooms when at home. (No respect for privacy.) The older lady looks for any excuse to throw an alcohol-fuelled party and leads the charge in disrupting Godai’s studies. There’s a lot more fun when it spotlights them.

I wanted Maison Ikkoku to be great. Imagine, 96 episodes of romantic goodness. Anime could do with more romance series, as much of the best romantic relationships are subplots to other genres, like an action series. Or they’re in heavy dramas, which I love of course, but it’s good to balance it with a wholesome romance. My search continues.

Art – Medium

This is 80s anime art at its most classic – poufy hair included. What is with that dog’s eyes though? Are they mouths!? The animation is decent for the time and the exterior establishing shots are nice at setting mood.

Sound – Medium

It sounds old in Japanese, as expected, though the dub doesn’t sound much better either, which is odd considering how much later it released in the West. I’m not fond of either version. That has more to do with my lack of character interest, however.

Story – Low

A failed student joins a boarding house to focus on his studies, where he falls in love with a young widow chained to the past. Maison Ikkoku’s suffers from constant delays, setbacks, and side relationships that go nowhere to drag out the main relationship, which in itself is rather shallow.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: For vintage anime fans only. I can’t imagine many people will want to sit through a romance as drawn out as Maison Ikkoku when we have so much choice today.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Repetitive

Avengers Confidential: Black Widow & Punisher – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Avengers Confidential: Black Widow & Punisher

 

Related: Marvel Future Avengers

Similar: Iron Man

Canaan

Spriggan

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Science Fiction

Length: 1 hr. 22 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • Animated well.

Negatives:

  • Action is repetitive.
  • No mystery or suspense.
  • Generic scientist villain.
  • Royalty-free rock music?

(Request an anime for review here.)

I just watched this out of curiosity to see what they would do with a Marvel anime film instead of a series. I shouldn’t have bothered.

After the Punisher disrupts a secret S.H.I.E.L.D mission, the agency forces him to team up with Black Widow to fight Leviathan, a terrorist organisation selling stolen S.H.I.E.L.D tech. The vigilante and hero will have to put their differences aside to save the world.

Action, action, and more action constitute Avengers Confidential’s runtime. There’s a fight between the Punisher and Black Widow, a fight against some thugs, another fight between the Punisher and Black Widow, a fight against the generic weapons scientist enemy, and, of course, yet more combat between the two leads. Honestly, these two fight each other more than they do enemies.

The action is so repetitive as well. How many times do they hit fist to fist? It must be at least once per fight. Avengers Confidential has no mystery or suspense to keep you watching. It has as much content as an episode from the Marvel series anime. There is no substance here, no character and little story to speak of. I wonder how this anime would look from the perspective of someone who knows nothing about these characters. Would such an audience have any sense for whom these characters are and for what they are meant to stand?

There’s nothing more to say other than don’t waste your time as I did with this incredibly boring film. It’s made to look even worse should you come at it from Marvel’s Hollywood movies.

And with that, I am done with Marvel’s foray into anime, unless they try again with something better at a later date. Overall, I am not impressed with these Marvel anime. X-Men had good qualities, but the rest…I doubt people will even remember which characters received adaptations in a few years.

Art – Medium

Avengers Confidential is well animated, though the anatomy looks off at times, particularly faces, as if two studios worked on separate scenes independently.

Sound – Low

The acting is decent with little to say while the music sounds like royalty-free rock.

Story – Low

The Punisher and Black Widow team up to defeat Leviathan, a terrorist organisation looking to sell S.H.I.E.L.D technology to super villains. You need more than straightforward action to have a good story.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Avoid it. Watch any Avengers animated series instead, or you have a hundred more engaging action anime than Avenger Confidential.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

RepetitiveShallow

Lucky Star – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Lucky Star

 

Similar: K-On!

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya

Nichijou – An Ordinary Life

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Slice of Life Comedy

Length: 24 episodes, 1 OVA

 

Positives:

  • The smug.

Negatives:

  • Moe over substance.
  • Writing isn’t witty enough.
  • Mundane humour.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Lucky Star is known for its moe characters, dance routine, and smug memes. At least, that’s what I knew it for. It follows the daily happenings of four girls at high school (yes, high school) and outside, with a commentary on mundane life led by lazy otaku Konata. School, food, video games, anime, and daily hygiene are but a sample of the fields these girls discuss to no end.

This is an anime about nothing. The first conversation covers how to eat certain food. Do you eat a cream cone from the thin and easy end or from the large end where the cream can ooze out? This discussion goes at length. And to be honest, I don’t find it funny. Where is the punch line? I’m clearly not the target audience of this comedy.

Even if you look at the humour with a critical eye, it can be hard to find the jokes. Most of the time, I am unsure about whether any of this is supposed to be funny, or is this designed to be humorous though not laugh-out-loud funny? I laughed perhaps once or twice (it was the smugness). If these are meant to have you laugh, then they drag on for too long to succeed. What should be a two-minute skit takes half an episode.

It’s hard to convey the emptiness of Lucky Star, for there is little to discuss. One scene pauses for a girl to talk about another girl’s pyjamas. Is this funny? No. Does it lead anywhere? No.

The gags lack punch and wit. You know what this reminds me of? Puppies and kittens. When a puppy trips over while going down a step, it’s both funny and cute. You laugh as your heart aches with cuteness. When an adult trips over, you recoil with pain instead. It just isn’t the same. I suppose you must love moe that I don’t to find this interesting. Lucky Star masks the dullness of the conversations with cute art, which is likely the point, and there must be an audience for it to have had 24 episodes.

As I tried my best to watch Lucky Star, I recalled Seinfeld, of all shows. That sitcom too is about “nothing” (it isn’t really, but as close as you can get without having anything but a white wall for nine seasons). It took me several attempts over a decade to get into Seinfeld. But once I was in, I would finish a season every few days. It has wit and precision that Lucky Star lacks and its observations are far cleverer than this anime. When Seinfeld points out some daily oddity through comedy, it makes me think, “Huh, I never saw that way.” When Lucky Star does it, I don’t care and it isn’t something I haven’t heard before.

The catchy dance number you’ve seen online, if nothing else, is more popular than Lucky Star itself. Being a meme machine doesn’t age well. Incidentally, the lines used for memes are funnier online than in context of the anime, as they are to the point in a panel or three.

Lucky Star didn’t bother me, by any means, so don’t let me put you off if it sounds like your thing. It was simply…nothing.

Art – Medium

The most moe of moe art. It’s not to my taste, though it is very expressive and conveys character.

Sound – Low

The acting could have been worse by overdoing the moe voices, like in the post-credit Lucky Channel TV segments. Thankfully, they showed restraint. The dub sharpens up the script a little, less reliant on the “cuteness” to make the jokes, but the casting isn’t as good. Music is mostly small loops, seemingly generated by a moe music algorithm.

Story – Low

Follow a group of girls as they go about their comedic daily lives in high school. This moe comedy is an acquired taste with its story about the mundane.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Try it. An episode or even a single scene will say if Lucky Star’s humour is for you.

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

 

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Barakamon – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Barakamon

 

Similar: Bunny Drop

Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun

Silver Spoon

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Comedy Slice of Life

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Great cast of characters, including the kids.
  • Funny every episode.
  • Nailed accents and dialects.

Negatives:

  • The weakest episodes are at the end.

(Request an anime for review here.)

I am not a big fan of the slice of life genre, as the dear reader who recommended this anime had pointed out. My reason for disliking slice of life in general is that it’s full of do-nothing and go-nowhere plots. And the counterpoint I always hear to this is, “But it’s not meant to go anywhere! It’s slice of life.” Why am I wasting my time with it if it’s not going to make an effort at presenting anything?

Barakamon defies genre conventions by having great characters, actual story arcs, and a point to each episode. Furthermore, it breaks the mould of the “adult with a problem meets a child that will fix the problem”, a common sub-genre of anime slice of life, by not having everything miraculously resolved by the introduction of a child. At time, I believe that manga writers of this sub-genre have never been around children long enough to realise how much extra work they are, and not some solve-all McGuffin.

Anyways, that’s beside the point. Barakamon follows young calligrapher Handa, who has his career trajectory derailed after punching an art critic in the face (great way to open a series, by the way) and his father exiles him to a fishing island for self-reflection. As a city boy, rural life doesn’t agree with him, made worse by the local kids that use his house as a hangout. Worst of all is NaruDamn you, Naru! – the rascaliest of the rascals. Her insufferable (to him) levels of energy will never allow him to get any work done – not that he could work when his well of inspiration has run dry. Perhaps the boisterous town and its nosy residents are what he needs…

Barakamon is immediately funny with Handa decking the critic followed by the introduction of Naru and the villagers. If I were to pitch this anime in a single line – artist retreats to countryside for inspiration and maturity – you’d expect it to be full of scenes with Handa staring out at sea, sombre in his musing about what it means to create art and the meaning of life. You know, the boring crap people pretend to think makes for “deep” movies. Instead, Barakamon takes the energetic approach to show us these themes through a variety of scenarios and characters.

This variety of characters is important, for it avoids the contrivance of having Handa’s every problem solved by meeting Naru, as I mentioned earlier. Everyone contributes a piece, just as in real life. And it helps that these characters are so much fun to be around, playing well as contrasts to Handa’s narcissistic Tokyo-kid tendencies. Best of all is Naru herself.

I often find little kids in anime annoying rather than the intended cute. Perhaps it’s just me, but the more annoying something is, the less cute it becomes, especially if it’s human. I’m not conflating being a kid with being annoying either. Anime kids are often nothing like real kids. What makes Naru different is that she doesn’t get her way with everything and she doesn’t come across as a moe character dropped on her head as a baby. When she does something wrong, she realises her mistake and works to remedy it – in her own goofy way, of course. Barakamon strikes a good balance with all the children. She isn’t a whiner either. She’s one of the strongest child characters in anime, no doubt. You wouldn’t know it looking at her face, but she’s excellent.

She’s an endless source of comedy as well. Oh, the way she talks is too precious. The dub is great, but you must watch Barakamon in the original Japanese for the authentic accents and dialects. This is effort. I love it when artists put the effort into capturing the voice of a region. The dialect gags, Naru’s attempts at learning innuendo from the older girls, and the country humour make Barakamon hilarious. Reminds me of the humour in Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun. Simply writing the lines here wouldn’t do them justice. You have to hear them for yourself.

Now, this anime isn’t perfect and I’m torn between where to place it. High or Very High? Its greatest weakness is in the conclusion. Not that’s it’s a bad ending, of course. In fact, I like the plot, the idea of the ending, but the execution feels flat. For one, it doesn’t feel Barakamon-ish, if you get my meaning. The execution feels common, lacking the voice of previous episodes. It’s almost as if they were adapting an incomplete manga and had to hastily throw a finish together to wrap it all up. It’s not bad, yet not up to quality of the overall series.

Regardless, I recommend Barakamon to everyone, even those averse to slice of life like me – especially those people. Naru has joined my favourite anime kids list and I’m sure you will love her too.

Art – High

Uses well-timed “suddenly low quality reactions” as effective punctuation to the jokes and has good animation besides that.

Sound – Very High

Great dub. Still, you do yourself a disservice if you don’t watch it in Japanese. Naru’s accent is adorable.

Story – High

A narcissistic calligrapher finds himself exiled to a lively rural town for some self-reflection. The characters, writing, and comedy make Barakamon a joy.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch it. Barakamon is too much fun for you to miss. I may place this in the Very High tier after it simmers for a little longer.

(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:

CharmHilariousStellar Voice ActingStrong Lead Characters

Negative: None