Category Archives: Anime Reviews

Dororo – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Dororo

 

Similar: Demon Slayer

Mushi-shi

Sword of the Stranger

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Historical Supernatural Action Adventure

Length: 24 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Brutal depiction of samurai times (even without the monsters)
  • The monsters
  • Hyakkimaru’s lore
  • Beautiful rustic art

Negatives:

  • Visuals dip in the finale

(Request an anime for review here.)

Did you watch Mushi-shi and think, “This anime is too friendly. Needs more violence and demons”? Well, do I have the anime for you!

Dororo takes Mushi-shi’s adventure of roaming rural Japan in search of the unusual, but instead of trying to understand the supernatural like Ginko would do, Hyakkimaru massacres them to the very last. He was born as a child of sacrifice. Though he should have died, missing his limbs, most organs, skin, and even a spine at birth, a prosthetics doctor found him down the river and rebuilt him to survive. Now, with each demon he slays, a part of him regrows. His single-minded focus to cleanse the land of demons and regain his body drives him down a dangerous path. Thankfully, the ever-cheerful street rat Dororo latches onto him and claims him for an older brother.

The feudal world of Dororo is a harsh one. It does not romanticise the samurai era whatsoever. There was a time when a samurai’s primary goal was collecting the heads of enemies, even if it meant taking them by force from allies. After all, the survivor tells the tale. The country is in a state of desolation – Hyakkimaru’s father and lord performed the sacrifice to bring prosperity to his state. Samurai or peasant, honour is a scare resource when starvation grips the soul. Dororo’s parents were victims of a battle, an inconsequential skirmish in the grand scheme of things, fought over scraps of power. He now travels with Hyakkimaru in search of demons to slay and food to survive, all the while making the most of life.

There is so much to like about Dororo. The titular character is likeable from the very first. I love his energy and craftiness. The contrast between him and Hyakkimaru is a perfect balance between the former’s bubbly personality and the latter’s silence. The perfect foil. Hyakkimaru wouldn’t have worked as a protagonist without him. Speaking of, I love the design of Hyakkimaru with the prosthetics, blades hidden inside his arms, and the way he regrows bit by bit. When a new leg shoots out after a kill, it’s painful yet great to watch. The more he regrows, the more human he becomes and learns about the world around him. Smell and sound are a surprise. However, he becomes more obsessed with the next kill the closer he gets to completion. His arc is fantastic, culminating in a crazy scenario that I don’t even want to hint at.

Dororo gripped me from the start. If you want a prime example of how to do a first episode, watch this anime. There are no exposition dumps, no out of place humour (we all know another studio would have forced a boob grab or some such cliché), and the showing of the characters, their motivations, and the world is spot on.

Then we have the world. The watercolour environments give such a rustic, quaint feel that you wish you could roam that countryside. That is, until you face a demon, or worse, the samurai. I can imagine the Japanese tourist board setting up walking tours to visit the modern equivalent, safe from horrors of course. The charming feel to the world was a great decision, for it lulls the audience into thinking perhaps things aren’t so bad, perhaps they have found peace. Then reality hits and all goes to hell.

The variety of demons and the way they fit into this world – like a mini fairy tale each episode – is fantastic. Some are simple beasts of instinct, while others are cunning. There’s always something new over the next mountain. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that the action is exciting with great animation. Doesn’t hold back on gore either.

Now, I don’t recommend this as a binge show. Much like Mushi-shi, it’s best to let it sink in every few episodes. I watched Dororo over the course of two months – hence the delay on this request – and would not have had it any other way. The episodic structure (until the final stretch) facilitates this method. Dororo gets better with each episode. Each piece of the puzzles comes together to make one of the decade’s best anime.

Art – Very High

The samurai drama visual style is a success. Plenty of animation too, but it does have to use some TV shortcuts like repeating animations. Beautiful backgrounds are an increasingly rare sight these days.

Sound – High

I almost had a serious negative about a casting choice, but it worked perfectly in the end. Acting is solid, though Hyakkimaru isn’t quite right. I like the first OP and ED, listening to them each time, but I would skip the second set.

Story – Very High

A street rat and a cursed child roam a war torn land in search of food and demons. Dororo doesn’t hold back on the realities of war, starvation, and the desperation to survive as it delivers riveting action and an engaging arc.

Overall Quality – Very High

Recommendation: Watch it. Dororo is a surprise hit for me. I wouldn’t want you to miss it (unless you don’t like violence).

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

 

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

Positive:

Fluid AnimationRiveting ActionStrong Lead Characters

Negative: None

Cells at Work! – Anime Review

Cells at Work! – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Hataraku Saibou

 

Related: Cells at Work – Season 2

Similar: Hetalia Axis Powers

Dr Stone

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Comedy

Length: 13 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Brilliant teaching show
  • Cell personifications couldn’t be more anime

Negatives:

  • Not much in the way of story

(Request an anime for review here.)

Are you someone who can name 100s of Pokémon or every piece of equipment in your favourite RPG, yet can’t remember 10 maths formulas come exam time? You’re not alone! It’s because your class didn’t teach you maths in an engaging way that links the formulas to a piece of “story”. In Pokémon, you remember those in your team (main story), some you remember for being everywhere or annoying like Zubat (story repetition), others for being rare (story highlight), and some for an event unique to you (that close battle, that one you caught with your final Pokeball, that one you didn’t know was in the game until a random encounter). Their impact in the story forms a lasting memory. Where is the story when a teacher rattles off a maths formula as your chin slides down your palm before your head hits the desk in sleep?

Cells at Work takes the story approach to teaching kids (adults welcome too) about cells in the human body. We follow a red blood cell as she goes about her job of delivering oxygen to different parts of the human body – if she can get there of course, given her atrocious sense of direction. She encounters various afflictions and injuries that plague the body, which requires the aid of other cell types. A regular is the white blood cell (no one has a name) whose purpose is to massacre foreign invaders.

I love the animefication of the cells. Red cells are dressed as Japanese delivery workers, macrophages – “cleaners” of the body that capture invaders to study them and activate defences – are friendly maids with blades under their dresses, and bacteria are monsters. Platelets, the young cells that clot wounds to begin healing, are little girls manning construction sites. Simply adorable. And the way white blood cells are calm and friendly at most times, but turn into bloodthirsty killers the moment they sense enemies. Love it. The designs of these characters educate, even on a subconscious level, of their purpose.

Everything goes full anime here. When a naïve T cell matures, it evolves from a wimpy kid into All Might. Battles between white blood cells and bacteria are outright anime brawls. The worst of the viruses are Dragon Ball Z-like villains. The cancer episode is rather terrifying. It’s great.

Best of all, Cells at Work does all of this in an entertaining way without sacrificing education. This is such an easy anime to watch. You could binge this start to finish. That said, if you ignore the educational side for a moment, the episodic stories are as basic as you can get. Yes, there are a few twists – what they thought was one virus turns out to be a different more dangerous one instead, for example – and there is proper story structure, but it’s nothing special. If you aren’t interested in the concept of learning about cells through anime, this probably won’t engage you.

If you want to get the most out of Cells at Work, I highly recommend watching Dr Hope’s commentary on each episode, where he explains the concepts in detail and talks to the accuracy of the science. I discovered the anime through him. Here is a playlist starting at the first episode:

Art – Medium

The anime representations of cells in the human body are perfect and recognisable. While Cells at Work looks good overall, you can see budget constraints in the flat colouring of many scenes and often plain environments.

Sound – High

Cells at Work manages to educate the audience in an interesting manner and still deliver a coherent script. The acting is great too – real veterans amongst the cast.

Story – Medium

Explore the functions of various cells in the human body through animefication! The informative aspect of the story is great, but the actual in episode stories are basic. You won’t remember them beyond the macro level.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For those who want to learn through fun. Cells at Work, seen purely as a story anime, isn’t anything special. However, approach it from an educational perspective and it’s a ton of fun. Also watch Dr Hope commentary videos afterwards!

(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

Bobobo / House of Five Leaves / Bungo Stray Dogs – Quick Thoughts

Bobobo-Bo Bo-Bobo

Japanese Title: Bobobo-Bo Bo-Bobo

Genre: Comedy Science Fiction

Length: 76 episodes

Bobobo-Bo Bo-Bobo was the final review that prompted this new format. I struggled for three weeks trying to get a review out the door. Twice I had to delay it and whip up another review for the week in its place. Why? There is both too much and too little to say.

Bobobo is an insane anime. I mean that in the literal sense. Episodes barely string together as the most random events flash across the screen. At first, it seems like a comedy battle anime following a disco protagonist that can control his nose hair to deadly results. He’s a hairbender, if you will. (I’m here all night! Tip your waitresses.) But the plot – ha, plot! – goes off the rails with the introduction of a…a…sun mascot? I don’t know what Don Patch is.

The humour is almost random. There is consistency in the overall style and a running theme in any given arc, but once it moves to a new story, the rollercoaster derails into Wonderland. Earlier, I said there is too much to say about Bobobo. This isn’t due to depth or complexity – Bobobo is neither of those. There is too much because to give an idea of this anime is nearly impossible without doing a line-by-line retelling. And that doesn’t make for a good review, so I have too little to say. It’s too weird for words. You just have to watch an episode for yourself.

My thoughts on it? It is amusing and the commitment from the actors is insane enough for this series. The two big issues I have with Bobobo: the art is garbage (barely animated, overreliance on repeated frames, background smears) and it is too long. I made it 50 episodes. I would have stopped earlier, but I kept going while waiting for inspiration to strike for the review. Never happened. I prefer the shorter and snappier style of Pop Team Epic when in the realm of weird anime comedy.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Try an episode for yourself if you like random anime humour.

*     *     *     *     *

House of Five Leaves

Japanese Title: Saraiya Goyou

Genre: Historical Drama Mystery

Length: 12 episodes

House of Five Leaves caught my eye for the unusual faces on these characters. Behold, the faces of depression! And boy, let me tell you, these aliens wearing human skin don’t make for an engaging story. This didn’t get a full review due to my absolute boredom, which unfortunately isn’t the sort of boring you can dissect at length. Little happens Five Leaves’ 12 episodes. (Only 12 episodes!? Took me three months to get through this!)

The plot. I should mention it. A skilled yet sheepish ronin can’t find employment until a gang led by an enigmatic man takes him in as a bodyguard. Former samurai turned gangsters sit around looking glum. They mutter some mundane conversations on nothing anyone cares about until the final two episodes, where it finally feels like a samurai western (I think they were going for that genre?). Funnily enough, the protagonist barely participates in these final episodes. Whole thing should have been about the gang boss and his past.

The positives I can admit for Five Leaves are the nice music (often a single melancholic instrument) and the acting even for this stilted script. I suppose one could enjoy it as a laid back, low-tension piece to veg out to.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: If you aren’t interested within 10 minutes, House of Five Leaves isn’t for you and I wouldn’t blame you either.

*     *     *     *     *

Bungo Stray Dogs

Japanese Title: Bungou Stray Dogs

Genre: Supernatural Action Comedy Mystery

Length: 24 episodes (2 seasons)

Of these three anime, Bungo Stray Dogs is the best and one I enjoyed most. Don’t take this as a recommendation though. It follows a ragtag group of misfits with superpowers that fancy themselves a detective agency. We have episodic stories that blend detective and gang narratives together in the vein of Blood Blockade Battlefront and Baccano. The protagonist is an orphan of the spineless type. You know the one – always has that worried expression, voice cracks every second sentence, can’t say no to anyone. Not my favourite.

Each character has a unique superpower that they have to announce and explain each time we see it. The issue permeates every element of the story. Characters over exposit everything when it comes to conveying story, all told at face value. Bungo Stray Dogs suffers a severe lack of subtlety. The writers have no faith in the audience’s ability to read subtext or to understand anything unless beating one’s face.

The character clichés also wear thin. Everyone talks in brooding tones, trying to be cool. One guy is obsessed with killing himself alongside a beautiful woman. If you’re going for whimsy at least try making sense within story context. Another guy is a Mafioso who doesn’t kill… Stop laying your desperation to be cool out for the world to see.

Stray Dogs would have worked better with a noir leaning, à la Darker Than Black but more comedic. The tone is an issue. The blend of comedy and drama doesn’t quite flow well here.

None of the problems are deal breakers, mind you. I can imagine having a higher opinion of this had I not seen so many similar but better anime already. If I have nothing new to say, I don’t find a series interesting to analyse. It’s why I didn’t give it a full review.

I did finish Bungo Stray Dogs, however, which is saying something, for it is an easy watch and the dub allowed me to consume the series passively as I completed other work. The art is nice too – beautiful colours.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Watch Blood Blockade Battlefront or Baccano instead.

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Attack on Titan: Season 3 – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Shingeki no Kyojin Season 3

 

Related: Attack on Titan: Season 1

Attack on Titan: Season 2

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Fantasy Action Horror

Length: 22 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Finally some human drama
  • First half delivers good action
  • Less Eren

Negatives:

  • Stories from previous seasons don’t carry over well
  • CG titans
  • Baseball titan
  • Continued lack of thought to the details

(Request an anime for review here.)

Here we go, back for another season of Attack on Titan. After the poor showing of Attack on Titan: Season 2, I was done with this series, but a reader requested I return for the third season, as it had improved – or so the claim went. I go into this willing to give it a chance.

Attack on Titan: Season 3 starts well with beautiful animation and a focus on human versus human conflict. The titans became an uninteresting part of the series since it turned out every character and their mum is secretly a titan. Eren as a titan is still the greatest mistake this series made. You don’t think the author would do the same again, would he? Would he? It has also become evident which characters have plot armour, removing much of the tension that Attack on Titan executed well in the first season. These problems persist in season 3.

However, this season does improve in several ways. As I mentioned, the human conflict is good between the scouts – largely composed of the lower class – and the ruling class at the heart of civilisation. There should have been more such conflicts from the beginning of the anime. The most captivating element in any monster story is how characters react to each other, not the monster. Attack on Titan in general lacks complexity. Look no further than the one note cast of characters, especially Mikasa. I thought she would find relevance by now.

Ironically, the best action comes not against the titans but between humans, all of it in the first half of the season. The animation is great, the settings are creative and lend themselves well to the web swinging, and it’s different from earlier seasons. As for the titan action, it’s okay overall. The fight with the crawler titan has good atmosphere. A massive battle against a few special titans eats up most of the latter half of the season, which does drag from lack of story and two glaring flaws. First is the Bigfoot Titan and his baseball puns while pelting boulders. Just why? Imagine if Gollum started going on about fidget spinners in The Lord of the Rings. The second is the decision to have the Colossal Titan made entirely in CG – it never looks good (the crawler has the advantage of being in the dark).

In fact, we see a significant drop in visual quality during the second half. Static pans with only mouth movements become more common, highflying action is rare (characters hanging from walls or on roofs is popular), and we have less key frames throughout. The first half looks great, much better than season 2, only for the second half to slash the budget. One has to wonder either if a different team did the work or if they realised that fans would watch regardless. Attack on Titan is popular enough to draw a crowd on a shoestring production.

The “Part 1” and “Part 2” structure of this season brings another problem to mind: the disconnect in story between seasons. Think back to seasons 1 and 2 and how little most of their events matter to season 3. Even with this season, the two halves aren’t all that connected. There is no sense of planning for the overarching story, as though the author thought of it one season at a time. The internal conflict within the human city of Part 1? Irrelevant to Part 2. What happened in season 2 again? I’d say 10% matters from season to season. This simultaneously makes each season feel like filler and relevant content.

Every good story employs resonance to build and build the narrative, incorporating past elements with the new to reinforce themes and events. Attack on Titan lacks resonance. When an earlier setup does receive an answer, I imagine the editor had to remind the author the night before.

Lastly, we come to the details. In my season 2 review, I talked of how the author hadn’t grasped the size of the human territory within the walls and the travel time required. It gets worse. We have characters travelling vast distances in a fraction of the time it should take. People come to the rescue at the last second (see plot armour earlier) despite being on the other side of the battlefield a minute ago. You can get away with this to some extent, but repeat offences wear thin. On a scale of one to Game of Thrones season 7, Attack on Titan is an eight for poor travel logistics.

Then we have simple stupidity. The ruling class wants to disband the scouts, the one group able to slay titans. How moronic are they? While evading the police, the scouts have the idea of hiding Eren in a crowd of 100 scouts by pulling their hoods up while flying around. Hoods wouldn’t stay up – bet you the writer has never worn one. Not a big deal, but it’s one of many instance where no thought went into the idea. No one instance is atrocious, yet they add up over time. Another that comes to mind is the torture scene. The mad scientist woman is the interrogator, but because she is comedic relief, the scene is laughable rather than frightening.

Contrary to my plethora of criticisms, I am more positive than negative towards Attack on Titan: Season 3, mostly because of the first half and its visual plus audio quality (great new OPs). It’s easy for the action to sweep you up.

Still, season 3 has not increased the likelihood that I will watch the conclusion. There are no mysteries left for me to care about. Season 3 revealed the origins of the titans to lacklustre results (would have been better with no explanation and no attention drawn to the idea of a backstory whatsoever). The studio has announced the fourth and final season is to release in 2020.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For Attack on Titan fans only. While an improvement over season 2, Attack on Titan: Season 3 isn’t worth it for those that already quit.

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Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai!

 

Similar: The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya

Toradora

Another

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Comedy Drama Slice of Life

Length: 13 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Colourful, poppy animation
  • Good laughs
  • Works in the drama well

Negatives:

  • Nothing special above the rest

(Request an anime for review here.)

Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions is an anime that came off my abandoned list because a reader requested it for review. I had abandoned seeing this after judging it by the cover, for it has a character design type that I hate: the eye patch girl. You have no idea how much I hate that design. In particular, I hate the medical eye patch. I first encountered it in Ikki Tousen, a fighting anime featuring one such eye patch girl that has her clothes torn every fight. Wanted her to die.

I hate it because it doesn’t make any sense that they wear it all the time – medically irresponsible, even! It’s like those shounen characters with a band aid, usually across the nose. At some point, it has to come off. If you need a permanent eye patch, then get a proper one. The medical one just screams try hard of the lowest order and I have this irrational hatred of it. Before this turns into a full-blown rant about eye patches, I should start the actual review.

Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions takes the eye patch design and mocks it for the pathetic tacky fashion statement that it is. Yuuta is trying to escape his middle school past as a “chunibyo” called the “Dark Flame Master”. A chunibyo is the sort to believe that retaining your virginity until 30 turns you into a wizard. He fancied himself a fantasy hero. He was a LARPer who took it a bit too literally. No matter. He’s now in high school, where nobody knows of his dark secret. Time for a new leaf. In comes Rikka to ruin all that!

She is a magician of some renown and power, possessing the “Wicked Eye” that could unravel one’s destiny. Or so she believes. So dangerous is her eye that she covers it with an eye patch.

Try as he might, Yuuta can’t escape her delusions, aided by other classmates that join her magic circle and drag him back to chunibyo hell. The Dark Flame Master rises once more!

I find her a great character from the first episode when he sees her at the train station. The way she pretends to use the Force to open automated train doors and her smug strut on board that follows is simply a perfect introduction to the character. It isn’t long before the eye patch makes sense in completing her farcical appearance. This girl, whom I once hated based on appearance alone, is a delight to be around. My favourite scenes have to be those between her and her sister.

Her sister indulges the delusions on occasion, manifesting as epic duels of magic and comically oversized weapons (I love the cutaway to reality that shows them just smacking each other with an umbrella and ladle). The comedic timing is great throughout the series.

Chunibyo isn’t comedy all the way, however, as it introduces the drama at the heart of Rikka’s condition. Normally, this is where I would tell you that the story goes to crap while the writers try to force some emotion down your throats at the last minute. We’ve seen it time and time again in comedy anime, as though the writer is afraid that if the series doesn’t end with a gut punch, no one will take it seriously. They seem insecure in their comedy. But for Chunibyo, this isn’t the case.

First, it doesn’t bring this out of nowhere for the finale. We see hints of it from the first episode before the midpoint brings it to the forefront and the final act hammers it home. It explores the reason behind her chunibyo condition and her belief that if she can get strong, find just the right spell, she can see beyond the boundary of reality into another realm where her father has gone. It’s a clever way of explaining her character and giving her more depth than expected.

Now Yuuta, he’s rather flat. He works as a compliment to her craziness, but you never get the sense that he is a character beyond this story. He’s fine. I find the supporting cast more entertaining, particularly the girl who believes she wields the power of Mjolnir in her twin tails. I felt so sorry for her at the end.

Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions is one of the comedy dramas that manages to end on a satisfying note. Sure, it doesn’t elevate itself to some unmissable masterpiece, yet at no point did I deem it a bad show. It is an enjoyable ride from start to finish. And the eye patch didn’t suck.

Art – High

More animation went into this anime than what was needed, which is appreciated. It allows the fantasies to come to life and lively characters to shine.

Sound – Medium

Neither the music nor script are anything to write home about, though they aren’t bad at all. The acting is the strongest element in the audio department.

Story – Medium

A girl who uses fantasies to escape from reality drags those around her into a world of everyday chaos. This simple plot manages to balance comedy and drama to deliver a satisfying, if predicable, anime.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Try it. Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions is better than I expected and you may think so too.

(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