All posts by Nefarious Reviews

Space Brothers – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Uchuu Kyoudai

 

Similar: Moonlight Mile

A Place Farther than the Universe

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Comedy Slice of Life

Length: 99 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Knowledgeable about the space programs

Negatives:

  • Atrocious directing
  • Flatline pace from start to finish
  • Moving manga

(Request an anime for review here.)

I have wanted to watch Space Brothers since I started writing reviews. Who hasn’t dreamt of being an astronaut or travelling the stars to expand humanity’s horizon? I kept it on the backlog as one to look forward to amongst the long series, something to pick me up – an old reliable – after clearing through a stack of lesser anime. Several readers also requested this for review. Imagine my disappointment to be met with this.

Space Brothers is about the process to becoming an astronaut. It follows Mutta, a recently furloughed automobile engineer in search of a new purpose. Meanwhile, his younger brother Hibito is on top of the world, or rather, out of this world as a leading astronaut set for the moon. When Mutta’s parents sign him up for the space program behind his back, he now has opportunity to fulfil the promise made by the siblings as children. They could both go to space together.

When I say Space Brothers is about the astronaut process, I mean it. This anime does deliver on that promise. We see every step of the rigorous journey from the application to the interviews to the many training programs before one even has a hope of final selection for the rocket crew. Yep, you could spend years preparing, practicing, and training only to end up on the bench as everyone else watches Earth shrink to a marble from the window. Space Brothers does a good job of detailing the process while injecting a personal touch from the characters.

It sounds as if Space Brothers has succeeded in its mission, so how could I possibly be disappointed?

The execution of this project has resulted in the most boring anime experience of my life.

A long series that takes its time isn’t an issue for me – Legend of the Galactic Heroes is my favourite anime after all. However, it needs to justify the extra time taken. Space Brothers does not do that by any measure when this extra time goes to filler. Every shot is slow. The shot should cut, but will instead hang for a half or full second or even two (a long time in editing). How many times do I have to watch someone wake up, brush their teeth, and eat breakfast? I have lost count at the number of slow pans across a character with no animation.

Speaking of. Screenshots of Space Brothers look fine. Animation of Space Brothers looks the same. There is no animation. The mouths flap at least. When someone walks, the camera will switch to a medium shot to cut off the legs (no animation needed there) and bob a still image of the character up and down. This is moving manga. And filler.

Here’s what you do: get a camera and a copy of the manga. Now slowly pan the camera as you read panels through the viewfinder. Oh, you finished reading the panel already? Tsk, tsk, don’t be so hasty. You must finish panning the camera first or you will break the “immersion” of this man’s career. That’s the Space Brothers experience.

Speaking of again. Read the great manga instead (no camera). You will clear the full series (the anime covers half of the volumes) in a third of the time it would take to finish the anime. The anime also manages to make every character boring and none of the foreigners, of which there are many, seem very foreign.

Space Brothers has to have the worst anime direction I’ve ever seen. There is no craft, no effort whatsoever in this directing.

The acting is good, but the script lacks soul. It’s flat, likely a symptom of the bad directing. The soundtrack seems to have maybe three songs, each overused to death and made more noticeable when that damned camera is still slowly panning after the dialogue ends! I swear the sound editor turns up the volume on that one “idle’ song just to drive you mad during these moments.

I can’t even recommend it for the good parts in between the filler. There are no good parts. This awful directing is everywhere. Across the 99 episodes, I recall no tension, not even during the one tense moment.

Do not watch Space Brothers. You could become an astronaut with the willpower required to make it through this series.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Read the manga. I cannot recommend the Space Brothers anime with how much it disrespects your time.

(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:

DisappointingPoor Pacing

ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Department – Manga Review

Japanese Title: ACCA: 13-ku Kansatsu-ka

 

Related: ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Department (anime)

 

Genre: Drama

Length: 37 chapters (6 volumes)

 

Positives:

  • Unusual art style
  • Easy, comfy world
  • A fun charm

Negatives:

  • Story is light on depth

ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Department the manga came across my sight as I was looking for other manga to read. Having already reviewed the anime, I felt unlikely to read the manga (I don’t bother unless an anime is incomplete or vastly different), but then I remembered liking this unusual and unique anime. I still listen to that killer opening song each week. I added it to the “maybe” list.

Two weeks later, I got the urge.

For those who haven’t seen the anime or read my review, ACCA 13 is a story about a small world at rest and the government department that checks the 13 territories for signs of anything that may disrupt the peace. We follow Jean Otus, second-in-command of the inspection department, as he goes on tour around the Kingdom of Dowa.

Jean is as easy-going a man as you can imagine. His subordinates love him. His superiors have nothing to complain about. His sister, of course, adores him. Everyone gets along with Jean (except that one guy with a crush on Jean’s sister). You will never hear a cross word from him. It comes as a surprise to hear rumour of a coup brewing across the kingdom with Jean at the centre! That can’t be right…can it?

The tone of ACCA 13 is a leisurely one. Jean’s tour is as easy as a stroll through the park. Each territory has their own culture and quirks, which we explore alongside Jean. One territory is made up of abnormally tall people. When he arrives at the hotel, the concierge asks how he likes his toast. He is about to order his usual thick cut, but remembers where he is and asks for a thin slice instead – just one slice. Next morning, we see him eating a slice of toast the size of an oven tray. I love ridiculous throwaway details. Another territory has no electronic technology, so his retro mobile phone is the fascination of the people.

Reading this manga is like going on holiday. He stops at restaurants and bakeries every chapter. It also cuts away to his subordinates or sister back home to show us what food they will delight over today. Author Natsume Ono has a serious love for baked good. Perhaps even a fetish! I cannot overstate how often they eat from a bakery.

“Dude, seriously. Could you put down the cheesecake for one second and listen? There might be an insurrection building right under our— Is that a crème brûlée? Oh alright, just one bite. Could I have a cappuccino to go with it? Lovely.”

Such good food must be the secret to their peace with all the love these people have for it.

The story takes its time to reveal itself. Most events occur in the final volume where it all comes together. The coup plot is peppered (in between scenes of eating) with light moments of conversations behind closed doors about the situation. Who is traitor to the crown? On paper, should you look at only the essentials of this story, it sounds like a spy thriller from the perspective of an intelligence gatherer, yet there is nothing James Bond or the like about ACCA 13. If it is a spy thriller, it is the most peaceful one you will ever read.

And that is where many readers will probably lose interest. ACCA 13’s unique approach to such a premise, the tension being no denser than a peaked meringue, will leave some wanting a dense filling to keep them engaged until the end. It’s as if Ono didn’t want to disturb this perfectly peaceful holiday with drama.

Should someone ask, “Is there a manga/anime you love that isn’t widely known or critically acclaimed that you wish people would read?” ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Department is my answer. I can’t quite put into words why I love this series. Is it the gentle style of the minimalist art even though it could use more environment detail? Is it the pace of a world where story stops for pastry? Or perhaps the characters being free of drama even in dramatic moments puts me at ease? I don’t really know. I just love it.

Now I want to watch the anime again.

Art – High

Story – Medium

Recommendation: Read it for light and cosy experience. ACCA 13 is a comfort read of mine.

(Find out more about the manga recommendation system here.)

Dr Stone – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Dr Stone

Related: Dr Stone: Stone Wars (season 2 – included in review)

Dr Stone Season 3 (TBR)

Similar: Log Horizon

Cells at Work

Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood

Ascendance of a Bookworm

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Adventure Comedy Science Fiction

Length: 35 episodes (2 seasons)

Positives:

  • The science focus is fun and different
  • Commits to the premise
  • Protagonist and antagonist

Negatives:

  • Female character designs are weak alongside the males
  • Drags at times

(Request an anime for review here.)

Are you tired of battles in your shounen anime? Has Mr Young Hero pulled out a few too many new super techniques in the middle of a fight for your liking? Has your shounen been too shounened? Then science is your answer! Dr Stone takes the typical shounen style and substitutes battles for science.

After a mysterious green light leaves humanity petrified in stone, teen whiz kid Senku awakens millennia later as an unknown fluid de-petrifies him. The world he once knew has long vanished under the unrelenting might of nature. If he revived, then everyone could come back. He makes it his mission to bring all seven billion people on Earth back to life with the power of science!

Unfortunately, he’s a weakling and can’t lift a pebble to save himself. So, he first revives his friend from the old times, Taiju, a guy perfectly suited to grunt work. Sturdy back, simple brain. All seems to go well until the wildlife sniffs manflesh and attacks the pair. Senku revives the one guy he knows able to fight lions with his bare fists – Tsukasa, “The Strongest High School Primate.” This “teenager” is equally strong in muscle and conviction. While he does save them, he disagrees with Senku’s notion that all of humanity is worth saving. His philosophy is that adults had screwed up the world before and this was a chance to fix it without them. A rift forms, and as Senku tries to revive adults, Tsukasa is shattering them to pieces.

The pressure is on in a battle of science versus muscle. And what of these other people already alive in the world? Did some resist the light?

(Fun fact: There has never been a moment when all of humanity was on Earth together since 31st October 2000, after the first set of astronauts set off for the International Space Station. The ISS has had a crew aboard ever since.)

The “what if” presented pulls you in immediately. I love the progression from one invention to the next, as if following a tech tree in an RTS. Dr Stone is over the top. But it’s over the top in the right way, as it commits all marbles to the bet. If it had been more serious, then the silly shounen side would have been farcical by comparison. Everything commits.

You do have to not think about the petrification part too much. There are holes even by the show’s logic. It glosses over the rather convenient solution to broken statues, for instance. Similarly, the science is simplified to varying degrees. The principals, formulas, and ideas are sound, but the process is like those drawing guides that go from two ovals with sticks in one step to a fully detailed horse in the next image. The author paid more attention to accuracy in chemistry than he did to biology and physics (shounen physics still prevail here). Once you roll with it, Dr Stone is a fun anime! And it’s different from other Shounen Jump offerings. I never felt like I was watching the same thing, yet again, from adaptations out of that magazine.

Dr Stone is still very much a shounen in spirit though. Grandstanding, ridiculous proclamations, reality-breaking abilities, shouting for dialogue, and that hyper shounen aura abound in this adventure. This isn’t a science documentary.

The main turn off I could see for viewers once latched onto the initial premise would be the science/experimentation segments. They are the equivalent to shounen training episodes, though learning about chemistry is far more interesting than seeing a ninja repeat the same action a thousand times. I had watched the first season when it was current in 2019; however, the season was mostly an incomplete building up towards the grand conflict with Tsukasa. See, if the first big battle was just another shounen battle, then Dr Stone would have been a waste of time. The 11-episode second season caps the arc to a satisfying point. Looking back over the total 35 episodes, I think this arc could fit in a single season were it not for the aforementioned drag during the science sections. An alternative is to extend the runtime a little, cut back on some of the experimentation, and break it up with more character work. The science over punching approach is fun – I love it – but everything needs the right pace. Being able to binge the series now does alleviate the problem a little. The cast also outgrows the character development available. At least three-quarters of the cast is comedic relief with singular personality quirks, many of them blending into a forgettable blur.

On the other hand, Senku and Tsukasa receive plenty of development and make for good leads. That said, even they could have done with more interaction to explore their ideologies in greater depth (we see plenty of their ideologies in isolation, but not enough in opposition on screen together). The more important support characters are also quite good. Once you hit tier three importance, then we meet the blur.

We see this degradation in character designs as well, where the tier one and tier two (most of them) characters have fantastic unique designs that lean into the hyper energy, while everyone else – particularly the girls – are bland, even off-putting.

My headcanon on the character design meeting:

“Artist, you know that You-Gee-Oh kid? Give me his vegetable cousin. He will make for a mighty protagonist!”

“Oh venerable author, what of the girls?”

“Eh, don’t care. Just make sure their eyes are too far apart half of the time.”

I still enjoy Dr Stone and will be watching the next season, so I do recommend it to just about anyone who doesn’t hate shounen energy. It does help to go in knowing the contents and setting expectations accordingly.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Try it. Dr Stone may be shounen anime to the core, but the focus on science over action has it stand out from peers and deliver something fun.

(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

Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kidou Senshi Gundam: Dai 08 MS Shotai

 

Related: Mobile Suit Gundam 0079 (main series)

Mobile Suit Gundam: War in the Pocket (related story)

Similar: Full Metal Panic: The Second Raid

Code Geass: Akito the Exiled

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Drama Romance Science Fiction

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Looks excellent
  • A tight, small scale story
  • Presents a different view of war in the Gundam universe
  • As with most Gundam, the acting is strong in either language

Negatives:

  • The romance is too simple

(Request an anime for review here.)

Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team takes the core concepts of Gundam – mecha, war, politics, and romance – and compresses it down into a 12-episode package. It succeeds in delivering quality for all of those elements save one, in part.

The 08th MS Team brings war to the jungles of Southeast Asia. Ensign Shiro Amada of the Earth Federation leads a special squadron of guerrilla Gundam, ferretting out the scattered remnants of Zeon presence in the area. The Federation won the last war and mean to press the advantage. Shiro’s resolve wavers and – more importantly – his loyalty comes into question when confronted by Aina Sahalin, Zeon pilot and previous acquaintance, across the trees. She’s also sister to the psychotic enemy commander. The traitor title seems to suit Shiro best these days.

One thing I must say is how good 08th MS Team looks even by today’s standards. Wouldn’t guess it’s a ’90s anime. They put a lot of work in considering this is a series and I want some of these cels for my collection. Seeing this quality from scene one puts me in a good mood.

Such effort brings the guerrilla warfare to life and makes every damaging shot on the mechs have impact. It isn’t a flurry of laser beams flashing across the screen with little weight. The action takes a slower, more tactical pace than the usual Gundam spectacle (nothing against the spectacle, or course). As I said, everything is scaled down and it works. When a franchise has as many series as Gundam does, it’s good to have variety even if not always to my taste (such as Gundam Build Fighters).

The characters are a strong and varied lot. The writers made them relatable with their simple ambitions outside of war. They have grounding. You want them to survive to see better days. Zeon similarly features such human characters. Of course, there are a few crazies on both sides to play villains. Further beyond the major characters, 08th MS Team emphasises the burden of war on innocent locals, a side often forgotten when merely glimpsed on the evening news. Yes, the Federation is eradicating evil (according to them) hiding in this jungle, but this jungle is home to ordinary people as well. Even minor characters don’t feel superfluous.

Then we come to Shiro and Aina as a couple. They’re good as individuals, yet their connection is the core of the personal conflict, which doesn’t hit the target.

If you’re going to have characters make grand gestures of love and put a lot on the line, you need to give something to hang those actions on. Build those foundations first and then I could believe anything they do for love. It’s surprising to see the main coupling only hit mid-tier development when character depth outside of this is solid. I find the main issue is a lack of screen time for these two together. They meet early on, but don’t reunite again until too late to develop their relationship to a meaningful level. The romance is simple – not a bad thing inherently – and lacks a second act where it builds beyond initial attraction into something with promise of longevity. They meet, and then skip to “I’ll die for you.”

Beyond that, I don’t have any notable complaints with 08th MS Team. I can recommend this great anime widely, beyond Gundam circles.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch it. If you aren’t familiar with Gundam, Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team is a great introduction and standalone series. If you are familiar, then this is one of the best the franchise has to offer.

(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:

Stunning Art Quality

Negative: None

Ghost in the Shell – Manga Review

Japanese Title: Koukaku Kidoutai: The Ghost in the Shell

 

Related: Ghost in the Shell 1.5 (included in review)

Ghost in the Shell 2: Man-Machine Interface (included in review)

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (included in review)

Ghost in the Shell (anime movie)

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (anime series)

 

Genre: Action Science Fiction

Length: 71 chapters (across the four series)

 

Positives:

  • Deeply imaginative future world
  • High detail art
  • The crimes take full advantage of the cyberpunk society
  • Packed with lore

Negatives:

  • Stand Alone Complex manga doesn’t have the art or density of the original works
  • Ghost in the Shell 2’s experimental approached hasn’t aged well

Ghost in the Shell is a remarkable franchise in how varied it is. No two versions of it are all that similar, yet one instantly recognises their connection. The popular first movie of the same name isn’t an adaptation of the manga, while the Stand Alone Complex series is a little closer to the source but still so different. The Hollywood film is yet again a wholly original version (and much more accurate than its critics decreed – more on that later). Today’s focus is the original manga and its sequels, with a little on the Stand Alone Complex manga.

Ghost in the Shell, for the uninitiated, takes place in a near future cyberpunk society where the lines between human and machine have blurred almost beyond recognition. Every cyborg connects to the network through a “ghost,” offering incredible conveniences to users. With such advanced technological developments come new crimes. Major Motoko Kusanagi and her unit at Public Security Section 9 specialise in dealing with the most egregious of cybercrimes. When a dead man walks across security cameras like a living person, you call Section 9.

I love this franchise. It’s up there amongst the best and is one of my favourites. The depth and detail of this world is so creative and sparks such imagination. It’s a world that lends itself to myriad adaptations. Anyone can find new story ideas within the world of Ghost in the Shell without needing to expand the world, much like The Lord of the Rings. Author Masamune Shirow created a brilliant foundation.

I should provide a warning for this manga. It is dense. The first series clocks in at a mere 11 chapters, but don’t let that fool you. They have enough text to rival 50 chapters of the average manga, and not just any text – specialist text crammed with technobabble, explanations of how the technology works, and police jargon. Take your time.

Then we have the art. As if trying to outdo the text, details pack the art on every page. Not just detailed, but clear as well. Plenty of manga fall either into the “clear but low detail” camp or on the “detailed but messy” side. Ghost in the Shell has the best both worlds.

As for the story itself, this is a series of crime cases with a light connection between them, akin to the standalone episodes of Stand Alone Complex though they are still complex. The most interesting element of each case is in how it explores the “what if” scenarios of such a future. If one could transplant a brain and spine into another body, what kind of new crimes could arise? Do they even have to have a human body? Why not become a tank? Every case is engaging from start to finish. This is what great cyberpunk is made of.

A peculiar point to note regarding the Hollywood film, as alluded to earlier, is how true to theme and Ghost in the Shell “lore”, for lack of a better word, it is. Regardless of the final quality of the story itself, casting Scarlett Johansson as the Major 100% fits with the world. “But she looks nothing like her!” I hate to break it to you but neither does the Major. The brain and spinal cord are her only human parts. She changes appearance within this manga to someone “fans” would say doesn’t look like her – and she’s a comedic character in the manga. To say Johansson is incorrect is to not understand Ghost in the Shell or cyberpunk.

I should also bring up the Ghost in the Shell 2 manga. In classic Shirow style, it’s a complete departure from his previous work though still equally dense. Released in 2001, six years after the first, this sequel blends a ton of CG into the art to create a cyber-mindscape for the Major to explore and hack into. I like the cyber world. CG characters, water, and vehicles though? They have not aged well at all. Like cyberpunk itself, this experimental manga could have blown your mind at the time. It turns your mind off today. The story also focuses on the singular concept from start to finish and drags its feet by chapter two. An interesting experiment. Not one I recommend.

Lastly, I want to mention the Stand Alone Complex manga. It is apparent from the first page that the manga does not come from Shirow’s pen. Gone is the art detail and depth of writing. A straightforward anime tie-in manga isn’t worth your time, though it isn’t bad by any measure. There is simply no need for it once you see the anime. It doesn’t justify your time, unlike the original.

The Ghost in the Shell movie and Stand Alone Complex are better than any iteration of the manga, as they take more time to build the world and spread out the specialist text, amongst other improvements. However, as the manga is a different set of stories, and great ones at that, it’s still well worth your time.

Art – Very High

Story – High

Recommendation: Read it. Ghost in the Shell may be one of the most difficult manga to approach, yet I still recommend it to anyone with a love of speculation.

(Find out more about the manga recommendation system here.)