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Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation – Anime Review

Chinese Title: Mo Dao Zu Shi

 

Related: Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation 2 (sequel – TBR 2019)

Similar: Avatar: The Last Airbender

Twelve Kingdoms

Castlevania

 

Watched in: Chinese

Genre: Historical Action Fantasy

Length: 15 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Great characters.
  • Gorgeous backgrounds.
  • Action looks fantastic.
  • Such lovely music.
  • Perfect finale to end the season.

Negatives:

  • Magic is a little inconsistent.
  • Jarring time skips.
  • Occasional bad CG.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Now this is more like it! Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation gives a far better first impression to donghua (Chinese anime) than The King’s Avatar did. It still has that unrefined edge from this new market, but combining Avatar: The Last Airbender and Twelve Kingdoms with a touch of Game of Thrones still makes this a great series well worth the time of fantasy fans.

The story is set in a province of fantasy China where five clans of cultivators of magic live an uneasy peace. Of these cultivators, most peculiar is Wei Wuxian. He is the reincarnation of the legendary cultivator of demons and necromancy, one feared by all. Contrary to his infamous reputation however, Wuxian is a likeable goof known for his cheek and mischief at the monastery colloquially known as the “Wall of Rules” (for its list of 4000 rules, of course), when he should be studying with the other cultivators. Opposite him is Lan Wangji, who takes life too seriously as the perfect student that never smiles. He’s responsible for turning Wuxian into the monastery instructors more than once. Life becomes more than fun and games for Wuxian and his friends when one clan closes its iron grip around the others.

The comparison series I used above are perfect descriptors for Demonic Cultivation. We have the might of one clan against everyone else similar to Avatar. Wuxian has Aang’s playfulness amidst all the violence. The etiquette and Chinese mythology influences seen in Twelve Kingdoms have ingrained themselves within the fibres of society. The brutality of war and politics like in Game of Thrones plays its role too. And I am pleased to say this series succeeds in all these elements.

The characters, the action, the environments – god, the environments! – reassure you this is quality fantasy. I love how Wuxian controls the dead by playing unnerving music on a flute (recalls that villain from Naruto who used to control her ogres). It tells much about his character. Even the product placement works.

If I may go on a tangent, the sponsorship ads are great. How would you fit modern products in an ancient fantasy series, you ask? Well, Demonic Cultivation achieves it by taking a scene from the episode (saves on animation budget) and makes it about the product instead during the ad break. For example, the episode has a scene with a tiff between Wuxian and Wangji over something story related, while the ad takes the same tiff and makes it about the fact that Wangji is such a stick in the mud because he hasn’t eaten a Cornetto yet (“You’re not yourself when you’re hungry” type ad). They’re amusing. More like skits instead of ads.

Anyway, back to the show.

Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation is full high fantasy. The most common reason I hear for people being put off high fantasy is all the specialist terms and names you have to learn (Hobbit, Rivendell, Mordor, Nazgul, Dunedain, Numenoreans, Eldar, Vanyar, etc. for The Lord of the Rings). It’s especially important to have some sense of who’s who and what’s what when reading high fantasy, as the story isn’t fed to you like when watching a film. In the case of Demonic Cultivation, the barrier to most people reading this review comes from it being foreign fantasy, where the conventions aren’t the same as what we are used to. Once you grasp one Western high fantasy series, it’s much easier to move onto the next. But going to another language, another culture, another history, it’s almost like starting fresh.

For me, the greatest challenge was those damn names. The subtitlers – Sigmar bless them – did their best to note cultural context and meanings for name and titles, but I still had characters and relationships confused. You hear the same surname, so you think the characters are related, right? No, they aren’t. Other times have a character named one thing, only for it to be something else in another scene. Turns out, pre-20th century China had a convention called “courtesy names”, where people would receive another name upon reaching adulthood. Couple this with the fact that these names – Wei Wuxian, Wei Ying, Lan Xichen, Nie Huaisang, Yu Ziyuan, to name a few – are nothing like Western or the usual anime names and it becomes difficult to remember any names at all. (I had to look up Lan Wangji’s full name for the blurb above and he’s second billing!)

Now I’m sure this isn’t an issue whatsoever to Chinese locals, just as Western or Japanese high fantasy is second nature to me, yet for the uninitiated, it will take time. Stick to it because the payoff is well worth it. Even if you can just remember how characters connect and who’s superior to whom, it will work out in the end. (Little easier said than done though, with characters from the same clan looking like each other in the same uniform and same hairstyles. They love that long hair.)

While this adherence to traditional naming schemes is a positive even if it increases the barrier for entry, since it enriches the world and its lore (in fact, I wish they had applied the same complexity to the magic by laying out rules), the frequent timeskips are a definite negative.

Timeskips bookend each story arc, often leaping over what seem like important events. The most notable is when the villain clan makes their move. One episode ends, everything seemingly fine, before the next opens to the clan in near total control of the others. How the hell did that happen? Did anyone say no or did everyone surrender unconditionally? How did we get here? It isn’t implausible that this conclusion would occur, but it would be nice to see the events that led there.

These timeskips remind me of watching a TV series before the advent of DVR and video on demand/downloading. You would watch an episode, then miss a few weeks because scheduling conflicts, and when you finally catch another episode, you wonder how it got here from where it was the last time you watched. “Weren’t those two madly in love? Why are they trying to kill each other? Wait, isn’t that guy dead?”

If you go in blind, the point of the story can be confusing because it takes a few episodes to get into the real plot. I thought at first the story was about other cultivators hunting Wuxian for his use of necromancy. Turns out, they just hate him because he’s a troublemaker at school. Early episodes make up the “school years” arc.

Demonic Cultivation also doesn’t wow the audience (outside of its amazing backgrounds) these few episodes. Once the story gets going however, it grabs you and doesn’t let go until it ends on a fantastic final act. That finale has left me craving more. (Season 2 in July!)

If you haven’t tried any donghua yet, let Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation be your first. It’s a little rough and a little difficult for those foreign to Chinese fantasy like me, but don’t let that stop you enjoying this new perspective on anime.

Art – High

Picturesque backgrounds, varied environments, fluid animation, and impactful spell effects should earn an art rating of the highest tier. Unfortunately, 5% of this art is early 2000s CG monsters and buildings, and it looks bad. The CG in some important scenes looks so bad that you can’t help but wonder why they didn’t take an extra two weeks to do them normally. Some CG shots don’t even need to be there. Just cut them. A still painting to establish setting would have sufficed – the environment artists are certainly talented enough to make it beautiful. Also, supporting character faces and hairstyles could use more variety.

Sound – High

Unlike The King’s Avatar, the audio is spatial and uncompressed (characters on the right sound from the right), which is a huge improvement. The acting has a little ways to go yet. Such lovely music though! I love classical Chinese music with traditional instruments and I could listen that opening song forever.

Story – Very High

A demonic necromancer reincarnated in the body of a trickster gets up to no good against the backdrop of a brewing war between clans of magic. Great characters in a story of complex interpersonal and political conflicts makes for a great series.

Overall Quality – Very High

Recommendation: Watch it. If there is the right donghua to begin with, Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation is it.

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

 

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

Positive: 

Deep NarrativeFluid AnimationGreat MusicGreat OP or ED SequenceStrong Lead CharactersStrong Support Characters

Negative: None

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The King’s Avatar – Anime Review

Chinese Title: Quanzhi Gaoshou

 

Related: The King’s Avatar Season 2 (TBR)

Similar: Log Horizon

Overlord

No Game No Life

 

Watched in: Chinese

Genre: Action Fantasy

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Good character designs.
  • True to MMO vernacular and mannerisms.

Negatives:

  • Low tension since protagonist never loses.
  • Some shocking CG.
  • Acting and audio placement is sub-par.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Ye Xiu is a legend on the esports scene of the MMO game Glory. He’s a 10-year veteran, having contributed numerous guides to the game, pioneered gameplay techniques, and won several championships. However, his skills aren’t a match for the current crop and his organisation forces him to retire from the team and hand over his account.

Alone and on the street, he finds lodgings in a net café’s dusty backroom in exchange for work as a night manager, which is perfect as this gives him opportunity to hit the grind hard on Glory’s newest server. As the newly created Lord Grim, he uses his extensive knowledge and talents to achieve server first kills, soon drawing the attention of other hardcore players to the server.

If you haven’t heard or noticed already, The King’s Avatar is a Chinese anime (or “donghua”). I love MMOs and I love esports, so this is the perfect first anime for my foray into this burgeoning market.

Before I level my criticisms, I want to talk of the positives. First, the author knows his online RPGs. Unlike most isekai anime claiming to be in an MMO world, The King’s Avatar actually has the feel of a true MMO community. The social aspect is authentic from the way they talk to the rivalries that form over first dungeon kills and PvP skirmishes. I like the inclusion of competitive PvE, instead of taking the easy route of focusing only on duels. There’s good MMO humour as well, such as doing menial tasks no matter how great you are and on the overcrowding of server launches.

I also like the in game character designs. The gear looks great, though it is inaccurate for low-level armour to be so coherent, as any MMO player will tell you, but it’s understandable to make characters easily identifiable.

You will have to suspend your disbelief in how the gameplay translates to drama. The King’s Avatar places too much value on player skill at the expense of mathematical limitations found in an MMO. Because of stats, gear, and all the RPG mechanics of an MMO, skill can only get you so far. The best player in the world on a level 1 character isn’t going to solo a level 30 boss monster. The mechanics don’t allow it. It makes sense that a veteran would accomplish much on a new server, though not to such an extent. Take it as creative licencing.

Furthermore, they make a big deal about Grim’s high APM (actions per minute), which isn’t relevant to an action bar MMO since you only control one character limited by animations and cooldowns (reaction time matters more). In StarCraft, APM is of huge importance because it allows a player to micromanage every unit in their army simultaneously, while also managing economy and construction. None of that matters in an MMO. That said, it isn’t a big deal. There’s only so many ways one can “dramatise” gameplay.

Now for the real problems.

When Grim first starts on this new server, he’s just dunking on scrubs before other pros join. Sadly, they don’t bring a challenge. There is no tension after a few episodes once you realise he’s so much better than everyone else. It isn’t the Mary-Sue problem of “protagonist beats the supposedly unkillable enemy with a sneeze”. Rather, the best players aren’t on this server to challenge him. He’s like a League of Legends pro player smurfing on an alt account but still in Silver tier on his climb to Masters. It’s fine at first, but we never see it become more difficult. Some organised teams do join, though it isn’t clear how good they are meant to be – amateur is my impression. Even if later seasons escalate (I hope they do), it wouldn’t change how easy this season is and I would skip most episodes on a re-watch as a result. They should have made him someone fallen far from the throne determined to climb back up with tough opponents along the way. The first scene should have been him costing his team a tournament win.

The other notable problem is one found in Chinese cinema in general – poor overdubbing. Overdubbing happens when an actor’s dialogue isn’t clear, due to things like explosions in an action scene, which requires the actor the re-record the line in character during post-production. Most films need some overdubbing these days, though Hollywood has managed it so well that you can’t tell where it occurs. China, on the other hand, has to overdub so much of its dialogue, even in scenes that shouldn’t need it, and they do such a poor job that it’s not uncommon for voices to sound separate (and out of sync) from the actor on screen. The King’s Avatar doesn’t have it so bad, though you can see elements carry over. It has the feel of a janky production.

In all, The King’s Avatar didn’t give the greatest first impression of donghua. However, it was better than I expected and next week I’ll be looking at Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation, which is shaping up to be far superior.

Art – Medium

The King’s Avatar is simultaneously beautiful and ugly. We have well-drawn characters, slick action, and dazzling atmospherics on one hand, yet we also have scenes with dozens of the worst CG characters tapping away on their CG keyboards in front of CG monitors in a CG net café. The environments are similar. We have gorgeous fantasy vistas mixed in with blocky CG building interiors.

Sound – Low

The acting isn’t quite refined to the level of Japan and the West when it comes to voice work for animation. Audio compression prevents the voices from following the characters. It’s as though you can hear the recording studio behind the screen.

Story – Low

A pro esports player forced to retire plots his return to the top on a new server for a fantasy MMO. The idea is an interesting one that could pay off in the end, but as far as this season goes, having an unbeatable protagonist makes for a tensionless story.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: For MMO action fans. If you’re a fan of those numerous MMO anime, The King’s Avatar will please you. I just hope it gets more challenging. I’ll likely revisit this series in future. There is also a live action drama on the way, which looks to have more of an esports focus according to the trailer.

(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

Skip Beat! – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Skip Beat!

 

Similar: Maid-sama!

Ouran High School Host Club

Glass Mask

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Comedy Romance

Length: 25 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Often funny.
  • Doesn’t make protagonist instantly great.
  • The visual humour.
  • Energetic performances.

Negatives:

  • Just getting started.
  • The love interest is too stiff.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Great, another title to add to the list of anime that deserves completion. Why does Glass Mask get 51 episodes while Skip Beat, the superior anime of the arts, only has 25 episodes? Shameful!

Skip Beat is a romantic comedy centred on the lovable goof that is 16-year-old Kyouko. She is a diligent supporter of her childhood friend turned idol Shoutarou Fuwa, acting as a de facto housewife – away from her family – while he climbs in popularity. Little did she know that he is scum! All this time, he was taking advantage of her kindness to have a free maid that will cater to him. Kyouko swears revenge by aiming to do the one thing Shou would hate more than anything: become an idol more popular than him and work with his rival, the enigmatic Ren.

There is only one problem with her plan. She has no talents.

Kyouko is a fantastic character. I love her determined naiveté towards the entertainment industry. After a makeover from frump to fashionista, she spends her time walking around the trendy districts of Tokyo just waiting to be discovered. Love it! When that doesn’t work, she barges into a talent agency demanding to become a star. That goes nowhere fast. (A chibi devil Shou in her head taunts her after every failure.)

However, after a bout of stubbornness, an agent does take pity and allows her to join as a low-level assistant, performing janitorial and porter duties to earn “the people’s love”. So committed is she to the task that she cleans the floors to a perfect polish, which has everyone slipping down the corridors.

If I haven’t made it clear already, Skip Beat is heavy on comedy to much success. Eventually she does more than clean and gets to perform before the camera, leading into the light drama of the story.

I like how it doesn’t take the Glass Mask approach of making her a prodigy overpraised by all. Her first performance is a scene doing a tea ceremony opposite Ren, something she learned from her time working at a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn), so it makes sense that she executes it better than the rival actress when it needs little acting on her part. And the surrounding crew don’t have their minds blown by her every gesture either, as they would in that other anime. It only becomes a little silly about over exaggeration for the final performance rehearsal of the show.

Where Skip Beat faceplants in the arts aspect is with Ren. He supposedly never does more than one take of a scene, which is stupid. For one, no director would accept this. For two, if there is one thing I can tell you about J-drama actors is that they could do with more takes. Also, Ren isn’t much of an engaging character. He’s the stoic type – “OMG! He’s so quiet and mysterious. I’m in love!” He seriously needs more expression. Perhaps that would come later in the story.

This leads to the next and most significant problem with Skip Beat. It is incomplete. And when I say incomplete, I mean barely getting started before it halts. This may be the worst case I have encountered of an incomplete good anime. At least Berserk can be taken as a series with a “villain wins” ending. For Skip Beat, it is little more than the first act in these 25 episodes and leads to all sorts of problems, not least of which is in the romance.

To no one’s surprise, the story setups up a love triangle with Shou, Kyouko, and Ren, but we never even reach that point when the triangle is official. In fact, Shou is barely in the anime after she learns of his true nature. In isolation, it’s fine – it makes sense to keep him aside while she grows closer to Ren first, but when the script stops suddenly, it’s so unsatisfying to have zero resolution on anything.

Skip Beat the manga has 43 volumes so far and is still ongoing (not on hiatus), so if you intend to get into this anime and want closure, prepare to read. So frustrating! Perhaps it could see a revival like many others chosen in recent years.

Art – Medium

The art is dated at this point. It is expressive though and sports good visual humour, which is perfect for Skip Beat.

Sound – High

Interestingly, the dub translates everything, including the songs and does it well. The songs sound as if the same people performed them in both languages with perfect fluency. The dub acting is great too. I prefer it for making Kyouko more manic and Shou goofier, leaning further into the comedic side. Of course, the Japanese works great too.

Story – Medium

A girl decides to become a mega star in revenge for being used by another star she thought was her friend. Skip Beat is funny, often unexpected, and too criminally incomplete to reach its full potential.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For those willing to read the manga afterwards. Skip Beat is tons of fun, but it’s also the mere start of the story, so prepare to get into a lengthy manga if you desire closure.

(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:

Incomplete

Glass Mask – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Glass no Kamen

 

Similar: Skip Beat!

Kaleido Star

Searching for the Full Moon

Hikaru no Go

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Drama

Length: 51 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Faithful recreation of Yokohama.

Negatives:

  • Teaches bad acting practices.
  • Insufferable protagonist.
  • Lead actress isn’t good enough to play a chameleon character.
  • Every role is Oscar bait.

(Request an anime for review here.)

How is it that one can make an anime about acting only to end up with a Mary Sue that can’t act?

Glass Mask is a frustrating anime. It’s something different and about acting, an art form I love, so I wanted it to succeed in the same way that Nodame Cantabile did with music. I kept giving it chances to improve, but it did nothing other than disappoint me further at each stage.

We follow Maya Kitajima, a 13-year old girl with big dreams of stardom on stage and screen as she toils away as a ramen delivery worker. She loves to perform for anyone that will watch. While playing with kids in the park, a crone-like lady comes up and proclaims that Maya is the star she’s been looking for all these years! Maya rightfully screams and runs.

This is the first red flag. Never believe anyone who tells you, “I knew it from the first that they would be the best.” When a teacher finds a future star, they don’t see the greatest to have ever existed. They don’t witness perfect pitch or hear the perfect note on the piano – many can do that in a vacuum. They see something more, a quality that could take them further, whether it is determination, focus, a different take on the art, or unexpected creativity. (And remember, more stars fail than succeed.) In Glass Mask, Tsukikage instantly sees the greatest actress that will live in a 13-year-old girl with no training and no experience. Sigh…

We can forgive that as the typical exaggeration of anime. It’s common for the protagonist to have some amazing quality right away, so it’s not a death sentence.

Acting is an obsession to Maya. While out on deliveries, she often finds herself distracted by the local theatre or cinema with the latest dramas from her favourite stars. We see an early example of how far her obsession goes when she makes a bet with the bratty daughter of the ramen shop. If Maya can complete all deliveries on New Year’s Eve, the busiest night of the year, on time and by herself, the other girl will give her tickets to the latest hit play starring her favourite actress.

This takes place in Yokohama (well recreated here, by the way, with the warehouses by the wharf, the downtown amusement park, and beautiful skyline). The restaurant is in the city’s Chinatown and I recognise several of her delivery destinations. I have toured Yokohama (love it!) and let me assure you that no one would be able to cover the ground she does in so little time, even if they had bike. Oh yeah, did I mention she does this on foot? In the middle of a winter night? While carrying two cabinets with several of ramen? Which, as a minor aside, means she has to return to the restaurant after every few customers. Did I forget to mention that? Before one would even consider the feasibility of her task, there is no way the owner would hinge her restaurant’s reputation on a child’s bet.

Of course, she succeeds.

Okay, perhaps we can forgive this as well. It’s the equivalent to the shounen protagonist beating the “unbeatable” trial set by a teacher to prove that they are worthy of becoming a pupil. What follows, however, is unforgivable.

Through a series of events too long to detail without being here all night, Maya becomes apprentice to the crazy crone from earlier, who turns out to be former diva and legendary actress Chigusa Tsukikage. A director wants to remake her greatest film (imagine Casablanca) with the current popular actress (Maya’s favourite). Tsukikage doesn’t believe she can live up to the role and decrees that there won’t be a remake until she trains Maya. This performance is Glass Mask’s end goal.

So, Maya moves into Tsukikage’s mansion with several other girls to practice acting day and night. And it just gets stupid from here.

First, Maya has the ability to memorise an entire play – everyone’s lines – in a single viewing and recreate it without practice. She also instantly knows how to convey any act on her first try. Glass Mask demonstrates this in one of the most laughably bad scenes in anime.

On their first night at the mansion, they have to mime eating their favourite dish after Tsukikage tricks them. Everyone is blown away – tornado picking up Dorothy’s house levels of blown away – at her imitation of slurping ramen. The way everyone reacts to everything she does is so over the top that it’s pathetic. This is a shounen for girls and her superpower is acting.

Another moronic scene has students pretending to get a bird down from atop a cupboard and back into its cage. Everyone does this normally, but for Maya that isn’t good enough. She acts as though she’s too short to reach the cupboard and this blows everyone’s minds! “Oh my god, we are so stupid! How did we not realise that a cupboard top is high up? Never mind that the exercise was about handling the bird – we should kill ourselves with shame!” They don’t actually say that, but their reactions do.

See, Maya’s defining personality trait is her need to be different, to be special from everyone else. One of her early gigs is the village idiot in a theatre comedy. Her role is comedic relief with the explicit purpose of making the audience laugh. That’s what they pay her for. The ignorant director, in his decades of experience, forgot that comedy is beneath the great Maya. She changes the script mid-act and takes over the play to give her character a tragic backstory, turning the play into a drama. Of course, the audience is in tears as they give a standing ovation.

You know what would happen to her in reality? Fired on the spot and no one wants to work with her again. Only the most gullible and acting ignorant person would fall for Glass Mask’s version of the art.

The stupid doesn’t stop there. Wait until she starts the method acting. Every one of her roles once her career kicks off is Oscar bait.

Her main rival is Ayumi, daughter of the current popular actress mentioned earlier. They compete for a variety of roles of equal pretension. One audition is to play a young Helen Keller, a woman famous for learning to read and speak despite being blind and deaf. Two of the audition judges are Ayumi’s mother and her mother’s manager. No bias, they swear.

After winning each role, Glass Mask takes a few episodes for Maya to go method while implying that if you don’t go method, you are a bad actor. In one role, she plays a bedridden girl; so of course, she goes out in the rain to get sick for the performance. Has Maya ever considered, you know, acting? Your Lie in April is far superior at dramatising the struggle to become a better artist.

In a move of divine irony, none of Maya’s performances – and her voice actress’s by extension – are any good. Not one performance manages to convince me that I am seeing a different character on screen. It’s always the narcissistic Maya. The funniest role has to be that of Wolf Girl, where she has to become a girl raised by wolves. Embarrassing.

I get the impression that the author of Glass Mask knows nothing about acting. Does the writer not know that acting is a collaborative art, where reacting to others in the scene is just as important as acting by yourself? Yet, this show acts as though the job of a performer is to slay your scene partner with sick line reads. This ain’t a rap battle. (Yes, they do have “act offs”. I am not kidding.)

Furthermore, all adults around Maya that have been in the business for years act like amateurs just to make her look better. “What is this…‘a-ku-ting’ you want me to do?” they say, drool slipping from the corner of the mouth.

Above all this, what I hate most about Maya is her false modesty. She wins an Oscar-like award as a teenager, receives a standing ovation after every performance and praise from all, but at the end, she says she isn’t that good. (I mean yes, her voice actress isn’t good, but that’s not what she meant.) What an insufferable character.

The ideas, if you list them out – girl obsessed with acting to the point of insanity, has-been starlet driven to train a protégé, showing the girl has natural skills at an impromptu audition, dedicating one’s life to the art – are all fine on paper. With the over the top execution of Glass Mask though, it takes them beyond the point of believability into laughable territory.

Art – Low

The art is more realistic (ish) than the norm for a shoujo anime. Animations need fluidity.

Sound – Low

Most performances are fine. However, having an actress with no range play a girl said to have the superhuman ability to become any character is a massive failure. The music is dull – OP, ED, BGM – all of it.

Story – Very Low

A young girl with a chameleon acting talent goes under the wing of a once great actress obsessed with raising a successor. On paper, everything sounds great. In execution, the journey is painful to endure alongside an insufferable protagonist and lessons that no actor should follow.

Overall Quality – Very Low

Recommendation: Avoid it. I don’t want people to watch Glass Mask, especially kids, and to think this is a representation of great acting. I almost gave this a Low rating, but I truly hate the lead and everything she represents.

(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:

Induces StupidityMary SueRubbish Major Characters

Wandering Son – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Hourou Musuko

 

Similar: Sweet Blue Flowers

Koi Kaze

One Week Friends

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Slice of Life Romance

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Nice colouring.

Negatives:

  • Weak protagonists.
  • Too many characters.
  • Lacks weight.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Wandering Son is a coming of age story about Shuichi, a boy who wants to be a girl, and Yoshino, a girl who wants to be a boy, going through school. It touches on the subjects of cross-dressing, transgenderism, and puberty. I say touches because it barely delves below the surface on any of its primary topics.

Firstly, it has too many characters – way too many characters for a 12-episode anime (11 in the broadcast version), spreading the screen time too thin. There are so many characters, most of which are similar in both personality and design, that one loses track of who’s who, especially when cross-dressing – “same face” syndrome is a notable problem. They describe Yoshino as “a masculine girl” and Shuichi as a “feminine guy”, but due to the lack of design variety, everyone looks just about equally masculine and feminine. Swap hairstyles and anyone could pass for the opposite gender.

Shuichi lacks presence for a protagonist, often feeling like part of the background. These characters don’t have the emotional weight to make me care for their struggles. Hell, I’m not even sure if struggles is the right word, since the conflict is so light. One gets the feeling that it will all resolves itself on its own in time, just like puberty problems everyone goes through.

Speaking of, puberty is a boring subject for a story to focus on. Might just be me though. I am far more interested in the growing responsibilities that come with approaching adulthood and the struggles of finding a purpose in life before thrown into the real world.

As for the transgenderism, much like the protagonist, it doesn’t have a strong presence. The story doesn’t make a big deal about the transgenderism – it’s light on conflict – which is want you want, I suppose, in a general sense. You want characters defined by more than a single factor like identity or sexuality. It recalls the history of gay characters in Hollywood. First, they didn’t exist. Then, they were villains, followed by comic stereotypes, until finally we’re seeing “no big deal” gay characters, which is where you want to be. How many straight characters have no attention drawn to their sexuality? Almost all of them. However, in the case of Wandering Son, where transgenderism is the core theme, you need to give it more attention. On the flip side, that can’t be all there is to the characters either otherwise they end up flat, which is the case here.

If you have reached the stage of your anime journey where you are looking for something different because you have seen enough shounen action/isekai/mecha/teen melodrama to last a lifetime, then Wandering Son is that something different with its subject matter. However, being different isn’t reason to worship something. There is nothing truly bad about this anime. Nor is there anything particularly good. I find it unmemorable.

Art – Medium

Wandering Son uses a nice watercolour style, fitting for the tone and mood of the series. I don’t know why they had to use this faded white vignette, usually reserved for dreams and flashbacks, all the time though. It’s like having someone’s finger in the corner of every photo. Characters need to look more different as well, particularly in the face.

Sound – Medium

The acting is fine and music is pleasant enough.

Story – Low

A boy who wants to be a girl meets a girl who wants to be a boy and they go through school together alongside other friends. The main characters in the bloated cast don’t have enough emotional weight to lead this passive story.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Skip it. Wandering Son is only for those wanting something different, even if it isn’t interesting.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None