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Mushi-shi – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Mushishi

 

Related: Mushishi –Next Passage- (sequel – included in review)

Similar: Kino’s Journey

Natsume’s Book of Friends

Mononoke

xxxHOLiC

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Historical Fantasy Mystery

Length: 46 episodes (3 seasons), 3 specials

 

Positives:

  • Perfect execution of tone and theme.
  • Varied and original stories.
  • Unpredictable mysteries.

Negatives:

  • Art is on a tight budget.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Piece of advice if you ever intend to review anime: don’t give yourself two weeks to watch an anime that you should space out over months. Not watching it while you’re on a Star Trek: TNG binge and finishing Game of Thrones (I don’t wanna talk about it) would also help. Honestly, I haven’t even finished all of Mushishi yet (few episodes and the specials to go), but the review has already been delayed and I don’t wish to do so again. And I already know what to say.

Mushishi is an excellent anime. You should all watch it.

There, done. That was worth the delay. Onto the next one!

In all seriousness, I feel I need to explain why Mushishi is a must watch, as it isn’t so obvious on the surface. I can’t imagine one could make a trailer for Mushishi that would entice many people into watching it (at least not without lying about its tone and feel). A large part of this is the art problem – getting to that in a moment – and the absence of exciting clips one could use to advertise the anime.

Mushishi is an anthology of supernatural mysteries. We follow Ginko, a Mushi Master, as he wanders Japan in pursuit of mysterious whisperings pertaining to “mushi”. These lifeforms transcend the bindings of reality. They take many forms from diseases to plants to the air itself. They are neither good nor evil. They simply are.

To ordinary citizens however, they can be the cause of strife or a great blessing. One mushi disguises itself by wearing the skin of a woman’s child. Another lives in people’s ears and “eats” the sound they’re meant to hear. This is where Ginko’s expertise comes in. As a Mushi Master, he dedicates his life to helping people affected them, yet does so without killing mushi, unlike his peers.

It helps to know, going in, what type of a series Mushishi is. If you just watch the first episode, it probably won’t grab you because it doesn’t establish a grander story or end on some hook to keep you going. I didn’t know what it was about, so it wasn’t until a few episodes in that I caught on a realised I was meant to focus on one episode at a time. Once I did, it hooked me.

The brilliance of Mushishi is in these short stories (one episode each). They tend to focus on an individual and their surrounding community affected by mushi. Each episode establishes the characters, presents the conundrum, and takes us down measured and winding path of twists to create a complete story. Every time. No episode is rushed or incomplete. Some are better than others, of course, but every episode is a full arc and an engaging one at that. This is the core brilliance of Mushishi. It makes you care for these characters and their story within minutes. Mwah, perfection.

Furthermore, it isn’t predictable. One can never be certain of the outcome of any given episode. Sometimes it’s a happy end, other times it’s a negative, and often it’s somewhere in between. The tone matches this unpredictability as well, evoking an air of the unknown – we know little of the mushi as we know little of the story’s destination. Ethereal, like the mushi, is how I describe it. Mushishi is what I wanted from Natsume’s Book of Friends.

The other thing I like is how it doesn’t use the same old Japanese myths that you see everywhere. These tales still feel like those fables you would tell around a campfire at night, yet they aren’t a repeat of what came before.

Mushishi’s one real flaw – the aspect most likely to turn people away – is the art. It isn’t impressive in any way.

How can you tell investors had little confidence in the success of a series, even one based on an award-winning manga (Kino’s Journey, anyone)? By allocating such a small art budget. When an anime has so little animation, a studio usually makes up for it with gorgeous stills of beautiful environments and detailed characters. Mushishi has none of that. It doesn’t have the surreal imagery it deserves either. When Ginko performs a ritual to cleanse a mushi or when one finally reveals its true purpose, weird things start happening (gushing silver from a kid’s eyes, for example), but the art hasn’t the strength to covey what the author is saying. The art simply isn’t vivid enough. You know the scene from Howl’s Moving Castle when the witch has her power extracted? That’s what Mushishi needs.

Thankfully, as the ponderous and ethereal anime that it is, Mushishi doesn’t need the best art to succeed and it gets a little better after the first season. (If an action series had this art, it would be dead on arrival.) Do not let the art get in the way of you watching Mushishi. I cannot recommend this anime enough.

Art – Low

There isn’t much in the way of animation nor are the still shots gorgeous to make up for it. They could have put more effort in character designs, at least – too many peasants look the same across episodes. Improves in season 2.

Sound – High

The OP is in English – interesting choice. It works in establishing tone. You can watch this in either Japanese or English (love the narrator’s voice) accompanied by a strong script, though note that only season 1 has a dub. The understated and mysterious soundtrack is great too.

Story – Very High

An expert on supernatural entities known as mushi travels around Japan investigating their wonderful and dangerous appearances. This anthology of fables is engaging from start to finish.

Overall Quality – Very High

Recommendation: A must watch. Mushishi is an anime I recommend to everyone. However, I caution you against binging it. Watch a few episodes at a time and allow them to sink in before you start the next.

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

Positive:

Deep NarrativeStrong Lead CharactersStrong Support Characters

Negative: None

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Mirai – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Mirai no Mirai

 

Similar: Wolf Children

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time

When Marnie Was There

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Fantasy Adventure

Length: 1 hr. 38 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • Beautiful visuals, particularly in environment details.
  • Small quirks.

Negatives:

  • Lacks real substance.
  • Parents don’t have enough story.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Mirai is the latest film from director Mamoru Hosoda, known for other anime films Summer Wars, Girl Who Leapt through Time, The Boy and the Beast, and Wolf Children. While I haven’t seen the first of that list (review coming soon™), I find Mirai to be his weakest. It doesn’t have an element that draws me in, attaches me to it in the way Girl through Time did with its protagonist’s personality.

Based on Hosoda’s experiences with his own children, Mirai is about a little boy called Kun who, up until this point, received all the attention from his parents. Now with his newborn sister Mirai around, he’s no longer the centre of the universe. And that doesn’t sit well with him.

He throws tantrums. He hurts his sister. He chucks his toys on the floor. He does everything in his four-year-old power to turn the attention back to him. Nothing works. In an effort to teach him much-needed life lessons, family members from the past and future visit him in the house courtyard, taking him on small adventures.

This narrative quickly reminded of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, which I coincidentally saw for the first time last week, where ghosts of past, present, and future visit the protagonist to change him for the better. In the case of A Christmas Carol, it’s about turning a nasty rich miser into a generous man. With this connection made, I became more interested. Unfortunately, Mirai doesn’t have the weight and emotion found in Dickens’s title.

Mirai’s structure alternates between the present day world, where Kun misbehaves in some way to garner attention, and the past/future world with a relative that teaches a lesson relating to the aforementioned behaviour. One time, he throws his toys on the floor in a temper tantrum against his mother. So when he runs to the courtyard, it takes him back in time to when his mother was a little girl and loved throwing everything on the floor as well. This shows him that she too was a kid once, but they also go too far and trash her whole house, which earns her a scolding. “Your mother knows you’re just a kid, but don’t go too far. Give her a break looking after a newborn.”

It may sound as though I am simplifying the lesson too much, but I’m not. That’s all there is to it. These mini adventures have no nuance, no depth, which is perhaps intentional so that little kids get it. Even then, it’s too on the nose and has little for older viewers.

I could look over this, somewhat, if the adventures were more…adventurous? There isn’t enough fantasy in this fantasy adventure story. When he’s with his mother, why didn’t they go on some Peter Pan style adventure fighting pirates, feasting on junk food, blowing stuff up, only to come back to the reality of a trashed home? Any kid’s imagination would conjure up far more outlandish adventures.

The exception to this lack of fantasy is with the last adventure for the finale. Kun goes on a train journey (he loves trains) and has to face his biggest fear before he can return home. This was the only adventure I cared for in the whole film.

The other issue in Mirai is with the parents’ subplot. When we first meet them, we learn that the mother will return to work sooner than she did with the firstborn while the father wants to become a stay-at-home dad, though he has much to learn. The film’s first half sets up their situations and struggles, but the second half doesn’t pay them off. The third act all but forgets their storyline. It suddenly goes, “I guess their fine parents now.” It’s weak.

What I do really like in Mirai is the visual detail. First, there’s the house itself with the courtyard. Hosoda hired a real architect to design the unusual house for film, explained in-story by Kun’s father being an architect. I love this house. The way it makes the most of their narrow plot of land and the courtyard is great. I would be happy to live there. I also love the small details – not just in the environment. The dog barking at the vacuum cleaner, the way Mirai behaves like a real baby, and dad’s quirks when working from home while looking after the kids add a layer of authenticity to the world.

It’s a shame the story lacks gravitas to back up all the effort that when into the visuals. For emotion, I look to how Wolf Children made my heart break; for fun, I look to how Girl Who Leapt through Time made me fall in love with the girl’s attitude. Mirai is Hosoda’s love letter to his family, yet not one I recommend to others.

Art – Very High

Lots of detail, beautiful animation, and interesting environment designs are a pleasure. The only real flaw is an overreliance on making background objects in CG.

Sound – Medium

The acting is good all around, though I wonder if Kun doesn’t sound a few years too old. The 80s “city pop” opening and ending themes are a nice touch.

Story – Low

Past and future relatives of a little boy teach him life lessons when he can’t handle all the attention given to his newborn sister. A severe lack of weight to the adventures and overly simplistic moral storytelling don’t make an engaging story.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For art fans only. Mirai’s story isn’t worth attending for. However, if you love anime with lots of visual and animated details, then there is much to notice here.

(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

Toward the Terra – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Terra e… (TV)

 

Related: Terra e… (Movie – old version)

Similar: RahXephon

Gundam SEED

No. 6

Xam’d Lost Memories

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Action Drama Science Fiction

Length: 24 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Grand scope with proper closure.
  • Intriguing open.
  • The sci-fi elements make for an engaging story.

Negatives:

  • Needs stronger key villains.

(Request an anime for review here.)

In another anime with the premise of a protagonist realising his world is a lie, we have Toward the Terra. Where No. 6 setup an ordinary world for the protagonist to exit from, Terra echoes events closer to the likes of The Island or Logan’s Run with a dash of RahXephon and Battlestar Galactica.

In Jomy’s world, talented people join the elites of humanity on the day they reach adulthood. This is an exciting occasion. Who wouldn’t want their child to lead humanity to greatness? This is also a lie. The test of adulthood is actually to identify any potential “Mu” among the populace. They are an evolved race of humans possessing psychic abilities that strike fear in the government. All Mu are executed.

Jomy’s birthday takes a turn for the weird when a mouse starts talking to him telepathically at an amusement park. It’s not long before he’s on the run as one of the Mu and the lie that is his world tears at the seams. Not only is there a race of psychics that live on a ship among the clouds, their leader Soldier Blue has fallen into a coma and wants Jomy to inherit his power and the burden of leading the Mu to a brighter future.

Toward the Terra immediately differentiates itself from the pack of like-minded stories by going off in a wild direction. This story spans years and ventures to places I didn’t predict. One could watch the first episode of Terra followed by the final episode and have no idea how it got from A to Z. No character is the same by the end of this series.

The first act sets up so many questions about this world and its characters. Where did the Mu come from? How blind is the average human to reality? Did Jomy’s human parents really love him? Is it possible for Jomy to undo the brainwashing on society? Who is leading the humans? Why are they so insistent on killing the Mu that aren’t a part of their society? Unlike No. 6, which setup many question but either forgot to answer them or gave meaningless payoffs, Terra delivers some great arcs and story conclusions.

This is my kind of sci-fi anime.

That said, it doesn’t reach greatness when looked at as a whole. There are moments of greatness – the setup episodes and other key events I won’t give away – but the problems are intrusive. The one that has stuck with me since having finished Terra months ago is the switch from Jomy’s perspective to one of the human elites in training.

We follow Keith, a Spock-like character except boring and with no personality. Furthermore, we have no clear idea why the focus is on him for so many episodes (turns out, he’s a major villain – no spoiler, they should have alluded as much from the start). Even furthermore, we don’t see Jomy during this section. It all makes sense in the end, of course, yet the structure of this early second act feels so disconnected from the plot that instead of enjoying the story, I’m asking, “Why does any of this matter?” for too long. It needed a back and forth of perspectives.

Oh yes, almost forgot – Keith’s main rival at the academy is a smiley evil guy. A laughable character. No one would just stand there and take his sneering for more than a day before removing all his teeth. When at this stage of the story, I thought all the good the premise had setup was going down a black hole. Thankfully, it picks up again once Jomy re-enters the scene and Keith’s role matters – he even becomes interesting after the academy years are over. The villains in general are on the weaker side.

Several other moments also standout as blots in the story. I can’t go into detail without revealing too much (as I said, this story goes in such unexpected directions), but they are in the vein of characters doing stupid things for the sake of forced conflict.

There is also a minor annoyance where each episode starts with several minutes from the previous episode. This isn’t a “last time on Terra…” bit, but a straight repeat of scenes. Could do without it, though not a deal breaker.

In all, the good outweigh the bad with the premise being a story type I love accompanied by strong sci-fi elements. I enjoyed Toward the Terra and may even rewatch it in future.

Art – Medium

The technical quality is average, but the creativity of the sci-fi world is good old retro-futurism. Beautiful skies. There is this one character, an alien scientist with the dumbest and most out of place design, like a stick figure in a scene of elfin people. I laughed every time she came on.

Sound – Medium

Solid acting and the soundtrack is suitable to the anime, though you won’t remember the details.

Story – Medium

On the cusp of adulthood, a boy learns he is an alien linked to the first of his race, which makes him an enemy of society and all humanity. This grand space voyage has a lot in it that works for the most part.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For sci-fi fans. Toward the Terra’s sci-fi elements will make it a pleasure to fans of the genre, but those same elements will alienate others. And the characters aren’t strong enough to carry interest if sci-fi the premise doesn’t hook 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

Soul Eater – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Soul Eater

 

Related: Soul Eater NOT! (spin-off)

Similar: Blue Exorcist

Noragami

Bleach

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Fantasy Action Comedy

Length: 51 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Creative visual design.
  • Fluid action animation.
  • Often funny.

Negatives:

  • Weak third act.
  • Narrow world building.

(Request an anime for review here.)

So, Soul Eater – this one took me a while to finish despite getting through the first 30 episodes in a week. It’s fun for the most part, but once it reaches the latter half, the increased action focus and reduced comedy coupled with stagnating development dampened my motivation. Before I explain why, let’s get on the same page with the premise.

Soul Eater is a Bleach-esque anime set in the realm of death where Shinigami train at Death Weapon Meister Academy and fight off supernatural evils. Its distinguishing characteristic is the living weapons, Demon Scythes, which switch between human and weapon form to fight for their masters. The ultimate goal of any Shinigami is to harvest 99 souls and one witch’s soul to turn their weapon into a mighty Death Scythe. The principal characters are the straight-laced Maka, wielding the scythe Soul Eater Evans, the brash Black Star contrasted by his kind weapon Tsubaki, and the OCD-riddled Death the Kid with his twin pistols Patty and Liz.

The first aspect one notices of Soul Eater is its distinct visual style. The urban anime art reminds me of the game The World Ends with You, which is a great fit to the character and world design. The drooling sun and laughing moon look like graffiti you would find in an abandoned train yard. It stands out from other battle anime.

However, in spite of this distinct looking world there is something missing from it. For a time, I could not put my finger on it, on why Soul Eater didn’t draw me in. The action is good, similar to other good battle anime, and the cast, though nothing new for the genre (except perhaps Death the Kid) is solid. You’ll likely find a favourite and enjoy the powers. So what’s missing?

The larger world is missing.

It took me far longer than I would like to admit to realise that there is nothing in this world outside of the main plot. It’s like a rail network with only one line. You can look outside the windows and see a city around you, but no trains go there and you only see story-relevant passengers on board. This city is a mere background like North Korea’s fake “Peace Village”. Soul Eater has a narrow world. You know how most fantasy anime have main characters travel to distant places and meet other cultures? Soul Eater not only doesn’t do this, but it also gives the impression that no such places exist. All of this adds up to a difficulty in finding reason to invest in this world and its characters. If you can attach to the characters otherwise, then I assume this won’t be as much of an issue for you as it was for me.

For the characters themselves, as I said, they are solid. My favourite is Death the Kid (even though the way he holds the guns with his pinkies is the stupidest thing ever). The school exam episode is hilarious. Seeing Kid’s OCD cripple him so badly that he can’t start until he writes his name perfectly on the paper had me rolling. It’s a shame the series shifts from this fun battle anime in the first half to a serious-action-only second half. Honestly, if the fun angle had persisted, I would have finished this much sooner.

The third act is the weakest section. My understanding is that this act is a wild deviation from the manga, which wasn’t finished at the time (the manga continued for four years after the anime). It shows.

The final battle in particular is one of the weakest I have seen in this genre. Off the top of my head, only something garbage from start to finish like Beet the Vandal Buster delivers a worse showdown. Soul Eater’s finale feels like the filler it is, written by someone with no investment in the manga or experience in writing. For one, it focuses on Black Star almost exclusively, who is the most “annoying shounen kid” of the cast. He’s not even the protagonist! For two, the win condition for this fight is just nonsensical. I won’t give it away, though you can watch the final episode (51) for yourself – even out of context you will see what I mean. A wet tissue of an ending.

I’ve said it before, but a bad end feels worse than poor quality in any other section. Soul Eater is a lot better than the end presents to us. If you do want to watch this, I recommend switching to the manga afterwards.

Art – High

Soul Eater’s distinctive designs make it a memorable look. Also, the animation shines during action scenes.

Sound – Medium

T.M.Revolution, one of my favourite artists responsible for much of the excellent Gundam SEED soundtrack, does the first opening here – I never skipped it. The music in general is decent, as is the voice acting in both languages. The dialogue does need trimming and less shounen clichés during combat though.

Story – Medium

A group of young Shinigami battle supernatural entities to collect souls for their living weapons and to protect their city. The story follows a normal shounen structure, but is truly let down by its end.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For action fans. While a little different from the norm, Soul Eater is still a battle anime at heart so won’t extend beyond its demographic. You will need to continue with the manga for a proper end.

(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

Nisekoi: False Love – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Nisekoi

 

Similar: Toradora

My Bride is a Mermaid

Golden Time

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Harem Comedy Romance

Length: 32 episodes (2 seasons)

 

Positives:

  • Reasonably funny.
  • Beautiful art.

Negatives:

  • Goes nowhere.
  • Same harem clichés.
  • The promise pendant gimmick is moronic.
  • Initial setup doesn’t matter.

(Request an anime for review here.)

There’s something to be said about watching a certain type of anime for first time. I remember thinking Elfen Lied was great, believing Emma: A Victorian Romance was a superior romance, and dubbing Scryed as one of action anime’s best. These were the first anime of their kind I had seen and as such, I didn’t have a measuring stick to compare. Sure, I had seen other gore stories like Elfen Lied, but never one centred on innocent girls. Emma came to me before my love of period romances and Scryed, despite being action – one of the few genres I watched back then – was so different in its powers and commitment to characters. Not to suggest that I find these series bad today. However, I have seen many better cases since. I am sure you can all relate.

Coming to Nisekoi, it is the 30th of its kind that I have seen, which does no favours for its cliché-riddled characters and head-smacking plot. I had heard sound bites of negativity from several people, including from some of my readers. This seemed odd, for Nisekoi is from studio Shaft known for quality works like Bakemonogatari and Madoka Magica. And what screenshots I had glimpsed looked great.

Having finally seen it, the art is great – better than I had imagined – but the story…well, I’ll get to that. 

Nisekoi is a comedic reverse Romeo & Juliet, of sorts. Raku, heir to a yakuza family, enters into a forced engagement with Chitoge, granddaughter of the mafia’s leader, as a way to bring peace between the gangs. The only problem is that they hate each other and thus must pretend to be in love for the sake of duty. To further complicate matters, Raku made a promise with a girl 10 years ago, but he can’t remember who she was. He just knows she will have the matching key to the pendant around his neck. Also, he has a crush on his school friend Onodera. 

The first episode has so many clichés – toast in mouth, guy falls on top of girl, fawning over transfer student, girl punching guy – that it immediately makes one lose hope. However, once episode two introduces the key event of Raku’s engagement to Chitoge, my opinion reverses. The premise is genuinely funny. Seeing these two pretend to be in love while yakuza and mafia thugs spy on them from behind trees, yet not be in love when classmates are around to make sure everyone knows they hate each other had me laughing plenty.

So where does it go wrong? If you’ve noticed the harem genre above (or tag below) and this isn’t your first rodeo, you can guess with 100% accuracy. More girls for the harem. 

Nisekoi’s premise barely lasts a few episodes before it spirals into harem wheel spinning. A third girl joins the cast, and then another soon after. Each settles into her dutiful role as a harem girl, never deviating from the mould or advancing the plot. Even the Raku-Chitoge relationship that gave hope earlier thanks to their stronger personalities falls right into place. The wrong place.

It’s the same harem garbage you see everywhere. The bathhouse, beach, and school play episodes are the same, tsundere behaviour is the same as ever, and even Kamino itself couldn’t have made a better clone for the childhood friend. It is good-looking garbage of course – Shaft brings their signature cinematographic flair and unique art style to make this the most beautiful harem of all time (sorry, War on Geminar; you can’t compete anymore). 

The one story distinction Nisekoi has over its kin is the idea of his “one true waifu” to end up with, but even that goes nowhere, so it doesn’t matter.

In reality, the plot centres on that pendant of his. The gimmick is lame. For one, the pendant looks too stupid for anyone to wear at all times. Second, it’s a contrived way of tying two people together because we are somehow to believe that a 10-year-old promise magically makes people compatible. It hints early on that Onodera has the key. Turns out, it may not be her but Chitoge he made the promise with (she too has a key). But wait! It may not be either of them. Yet another girl from his childhood has a key and swears they made a promise. (She is from the city’s third “gang” – the police.)

Give me a break. 

See, I can imagine that had Nisekoi been my first harem anime, I would have enjoyed it. I would have still been disappointed by the lack of direction, naturally, but I would have laughed a lot (remember, the clichés wouldn’t have been clichéd to me yet) and the visuals would have suckered me in. Now though, having been through the trenches fighting off the same old harem thots for years, my eyes glaze over. Unless you’re new to the genre, don’t bother with this one. 

Art – High

Nisekoi looks great with extensive effort gone into the cinematography, colouring, and animation. That’s how it gets you. It looks too good for a bad anime. Several girls do look too much like Monogatari characters.

Sound – Medium

I like the lead girl’s performance and the others are fine too. Music is serviceable.

Story – Low

The son of a yakuza leader must pretend to love another gang leader’s daughter – someone he hates – to keep the two groups from war, all while searching for the girl he made a promise with in childhood. Nisekoi is as generic a harem as any other that goes nowhere.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Skip it. No amount of fancy art can turn Nisekoi into a good anime.

(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 Stupidity